Cultural awareness

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  • If a person wearing a turban is involved in an Road Traffic Collision (RTC), can we remove his turban if necessary?
  • If I have to go into a house belonging to a devout Muslim family must I remove my fire boots?
  • Do all Muslims have to pray five times a day and how could I as a Watch Commander provide the facilities for this?

These were just some of the questions asked by our staff during informal discussions about culture carried out as part of a review of equality.

As a Brigade we did not want our staff to be frightened or embarrassed through lack of knowledge about our ‘customers’, neither did we want our staff to inadvertently upset members of different cultures through ignorance.

Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service therefore delivered a 12-month programme of training for all members of the brigade designed to raise awareness about diversity and cultural issues.

Following the creation of the Shropshire & Wrekin Fire Authority, an opportunity existed for equality matters to be dealt with in a different way from the past. Deputy Chief Fire Officer Paul Raymond was appointed in June 1998 as Personal Development Manager, with special responsibility for equality and fairness matters.

Prompted by the Steven Lawrence enquiry, the Fire Service Inspectorate undertook a thematic review of equality and fairness in the Fire Service in 1999. The resulting action plan - Toward Diversity – Promoting Cultural Change covered five key issues:

  • Leadership
  • Culture
  • Policy and Provision
  • Recruitment
  • Retention Diversity Training

The Service had by that time already carried out a complete review of equality policies and practices and every member of staff had completed a cultural audit questionnaire, laying the foundations for the Service's future equality policy. This has been the cornerstone of all equality matters, backed up by a challenging strategy document - Quality Means Equality (endorsed by the representative bodies), which had targets in five crucial areas. The Thematic Review added to our desire for cultural change within the service.

In order to support the required cultural changes a small equality team was set up, including Maurice Brookes, a lay official with the Fire Brigade's Union (FBU) and Rabinder Dhami, an existing Community Fire Safety Officer.

By early 2000 the team had delivered harassment and bullying training to all members of staff. Equality training was viewed as an ongoing issue much the same as BA skills or first aid so an equality training strategy was devised.

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The provision of cultural awareness training

Training on harassment and bullying was relatively easy to develop and deliver, but cultural awareness was, for us, a far more complex issue to deal with. The local Race Equality Council was approached and supported us in the training process.

In partnership with the Local Health Authorities a two-day training package was established and delivered to all full time staff during the summer of 2000 by various members of our minority ethnic communities, covering issues such as:

  • Assumptions and stereotyping
  • The history of cultural diversity
  • South Asian culture and Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism
  • African Caribbean culture and Rastafarianism
  • The importance of language and terminology

To deliver the same training to Retained personnel would have proven difficult and costly. The two days training was, instead, condensed into two hours and was completed in March 2001.

The effectiveness of these courses was confirmed in October 2001 by feedback from our successful reassessment for Investors in People.

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Conclusions

In providing cultural awareness training, the Service has built on the basic principles of equality and fairness that were established during the harassment and bullying training.

Raising awareness of culture and diversity is seen as an important part of the Service being recognised as an Employer of Choice by people belonging to minority ethnic groups.

In answer to the question that is posed in the title… this Service believes very strongly that cultural awareness is an essential part of fire service training, and yes it probably is a sign of the times… times that are hopefully much more enlightened than the past.

Further information

Training and Development Department

Telephone: 01952 293 568