Sexism row at fire authority meeting after councillor calls serving officers 'firemen'

PUBLISHED: 12:31 01 July 2019 | UPDATED: 16:21 01 July 2019

Picture: Simon Horn.

Picture: Simon Horn.

Archant

A sexism row blew up after a councillor used the word 'firemen' instead of 'firefighters'.

The comments came at a meeting of Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service Authority on Friday (June 28).

The authority's committee agreed to put to public consultation six options which earmark station closures at Appledore, Ashburton, Budleigh Salterton, Colyton, Kingston, Porlock, Topsham and Woolacombe.

Committee member Councillor Terry Napper told the meeting he would like to see how the 'fluid working' of the service could be addressed.

He said: "We look to me as if we have a certain amount of people and we are probably stepping them down.

"What I would like to see is a little bit more how we can engage these people in our community.

"Talking to, and I will say this, firemen at Glastonbury, they were also very concerned about the human aspect and the fluid part which may come into it with the ladies.

"The women have a different aspect to the fluid working than the firemen."

Cllr Napper did not clarify what he meant by fluid working, and was promptly addressed by committee chairman Sara Randall-Johnson.

She said the service had firefighters, irrespective of their gender, who provide 'really strong support'.

Cllr Randall-Johnson added: "If you (Cllr Napper) are talking about a specific group of people, then I am happy for you to say men, but not otherwise because it's really, I'm sorry, firefighters."

Cllr Napper said: "To me, they were men and they were doing a fantastic job."

Fellow councillor Rob Hannaford criticised Cllr Napper's comments.

He said: "The correct term is firefighter because we have excellent women in our fire service who contribute equally, and now that must apparently be consistently reinforced.

"I'm embarrassed by those comments quite frankly… I'm sure for most of the authority members, that is no reflection on how we feel about women firefighters who are an integral part of the service."

Pete Bond, assistant chief fire officer, said the staff is the service's most 'important asset'.

He added: "There is no doubt that the level of commitment, particularly amongst our on-call staff, is immense.

"Many of them give over and above their contracted hours to maintain appliance availability and we are very grateful for that."

Cllr Napper apologised for any offence he may have caused and said he was trying to 'address' a 'multitude of emails' he had which he claimed depicted 'the wants and the needs of lady firefighters'.

Cllr Napper did not elaborate on the contents of the emails.

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