“You do the best work when you can be yourself.”
This is the message from Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service which has set up four network groups to ensure everyone who works for the organisation feels supported.
These groups are FireINSPIRE, FireOUT, FireABLE and FireREACH. These deal with issues such as gender, sexuality, disability and religion, ethnicity and culture.
It is among the first support network system of its kind to be set up by a fire and rescue service.
Inclusion and Diversity Manager Leanne Illman said:
“The experiences a person from an unrepresented group has in the workplace can differ significantly from other employees.
“There can be an overwhelming desire to seek support and engage with those people who understand and have been through similar experiences.
“Our networks can provide this peer support and bring these individuals together. Beyond this, networks can play a significant role in driving change within an organisation and raising awareness of different issues.
“They can influence policy, bring in new ways of doing things and help us engage more effectively with our diverse communities.”
These groups are celebrating their first birthday on National Inclusion Week 2018.
FireINSPIRE provides a forum for female employees to share ideas and support each other in order to improve the working environment for everyone across the service.
The network deals with a range of issues such as fitness, personal development and workwear, and has recently put together some guidance on the menopause.
The group have also participated in the UK Fire and Rescue Service’s Sailing Challenge with an all-female team including Olympic champions.
It also arranged a high-profile International Women’s Day event for female members of staff led by female firefighters and trainers.
FireOUT provides a friendly and safe forum for employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
This aims to provide help and advice to people, and their families, while promoting best practice throughout the organisation.
The group is active at attending Pride marches throughout Hampshire and beyond to support the county’s LGBT communities.
It heavily supports relevant events and dedicated days, and has produced t-shirts and signs and flown the LGBT flag from the fire service headquarters in Eastleigh.
The service made national and international headlines after transgender watch manager, and former Royal Marine Commando, Katie Cornhill bravely spoke out about her journey and the support she had received from colleagues.
FireABLE is a network which covers disability, mental health and dyslexia.
The network gives a collective voice on issues relating to these areas and enables staff to share experiences and provide mutual support.
The group also informs policies and raises awareness of disabilities, mental health and dyslexia. It works closely with The Fire Fighters Charity.
Among its achievements this group were involved in putting together a ground-breaking video dedicated to exploding the myths surrounding mental health.
This went viral reaching more than 100,000 people and was quickly picked up by other fire services.
The team have also put on a stage performance and commissioned a stand-up comedian to help reinforce this message in innovative ways.
The group are also part of a deaf forum and have supported staff in learning British Sign Language.
It was also a key part of Romsey becoming the country’s first Makaton-friendly town and Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service aims to be the UK’s first Makaton-friendly emergency service.
FireREACH is a network which primarily focuses on religion, ethnicity and cultural heritage.
The group meet regularly and discuss how the service can better build links with different communities.
The network has organised faith days to mark religious events such Eid, Vaisakhi, Diwali and Christmas to meet with people with different beliefs and backgrounds.
A team from St Mary’s Fire Station in Southampton entered the record books for being the first UK firefighters to put on a Chinese dragon dance in an official celebration of Chinese New Year.
The group are currently looking at providing a chaplaincy service across the county.
Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer Neil Odin said:
“I am extremely proud of the great strides our fire service is making in terms of inclusion and diversity.
“Not just trying to attract people from different backgrounds but making sure they feel they belong once they are here – this is what these networks provide.
“By supporting our staff and engaging with the public we aim to be truly reflective of the communities we serve.”