“You don’t think about it – the things happening when the fires were going. You could hear the bombers, but you just got on with it.”
This was a quote from a member of the auxiliary fire service in the Second World War. They were awarded the George medal in 1941 for their bravery as they delivered petrol to fire pumps around Bermondsey while the docks were being bombed during one of the worst night of the Blitz.
The chances are you’re thinking about a man being this hero with the grimy face. It was in fact Gillian Walton-Clark nee Tanner, the only London firewoman to ever receive the award.
Nearly 80 years on, women firefighters are still comparatively rare and their achievements overlooked by many in the media who still in 2018 use the term ‘fireman’ as default.
Research shows us that one in four women think that men are more able to be a firefighter than they are. This isn’t surprising when the way we are portrayed in the media is often outdated, sexist and uses completely wrong terminology.
We’ve not used ‘fireman’ for 30 years but when shows like Love Island roll out every offensive cliché possible with their so called ‘fireman challenge’ it reinforces the misconception that firefighting is a male only job. People are often still shocked to see women firefighters and presume we don’t do exactly the same roles as the men.
I joined the Brigade at the age of 31, having previously worked in the creative industry. I was drawn to the teamwork, the day-to-day variety and the focus on physical fitness, as I used to kickbox. The flexibility of the shifts - two days, two nights then four days off - really appealed to me. It is a positive to any one who doesn’t want a 9-5 office based job.
Just because we want more women firefighters does not mean we’re lowering our standards or preventing men from joining. Myths like these need busting. We want to cast the net as wide as possible. Accepting difference and diversity at all levels will make us a better fire service and better reflect the city we serve. So help us by challenging the use of fireman where ever you see or hear it to make sure the next generation know that this is a job for all.