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This dissertation was produced for my first degree in 1996 and was a 'first' academic study of women in the UK fire service. It had a considerable impact by making clear the high levels of harrassemnt that women experienced in the fire service. It also drew attention to two further points. First the institutional sexism of the fire service. Second the complicated paradoxes of fire service culture: a culture that was positive in that it allowed firefighters to bond but negative in that it excluded those that the overwhelemingly white male work force believed would not fit-in.
At the time I produced this dissertation, it was the best I could do. I still believe it to be a very accurate account of the fire service at that time. Please use this work freely and if you have any queries please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org
Unknown to me at the time I wrote this work, it would also provide a pilot for my Ph.D. research. This research subsequently became known as “One more last working class hero: a cultural audit of the UK fire service” (available at www.fitting-in.com/baigent.pdf). This focused on the considerable influence of informal culture on the way that firefighters organised their identity. It also drew attention to the powerful informal hierarchies that firefigthers operate within. In particular, how each cohort of firefighters socially constructed their masculinity through their work and ensured that the next generation were fitted-in to be like them (effectively a situation whereby the stereotype proved the stereotype). The final paragraph gives some idea of the outcome
"Nothing in this report can fully portray the closeness between groups of firefighters as they congregate and develop their primary reference group. Work, talk and play are so synonymous that work (including firefighting) can then become almost a social event that firefighters look forward to. But this is not so for the public. The public are frightened of fire and the fact that firefighters ‘go into buildings as everyone else is running out’ gives firefighters a special public image. This image is further extended because firefighters are seen as someone who will help the public whenever they cannot cope with an emergency. This almost establishes firefighters as special and can lead to firefighters believing their image and acting out at work how they subjectively judge they expect to be seen, by themselves, their peer group and the public. In so doing they set themselves apart from the ‘others’ who cannot meet (often because firefighters will not let them) their expectations. It is these ‘special people’ that this report has studied: a group of ‘special’ men and women." (Baigent July 2001)
This dissertation provides a case study of the British Fire Service and has two purposes. Firstly to demonstrate how women can be denied equality at work by the politics of a male hegemonic discourse and secondly to provide argument as to how and why this situation should be reversed.
From an empirical base provided by primary research the experiences of women firefighters are analysed alongside their male counterparts. Foremost from the analysis comes the suggestion that the fire service is predominantly controlled by a culture that embraces all uniformed employees. This culture has the positive effect of providing the necessary bonding essential for the trust and loyalty that is expected amongst people who work together in such a dangerous environment. Paradoxically however, as the culture has been 'unpacked', several negative effects are identified that have contributed to the harassment of women firefighters.
Throughout the case study a critical analysis of how the fire service has failed to adopt an adequate policy in regards to equal opportunities will take place and sound economic reasons for an improvement in policy will be established. However, because to-date neither moral or economic reasoning has persuaded the fire service to become equality conscious, a chapter has been devoted to the practical application of equality legislation in the fire service. This will show just how much fire service culture is in contradiction with the law, and explain how women if they so desire can confront the harasser and his employer.
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