East Sussex’s first female firefighter urges more women to come forward – and to ignore Piers Morgan

An East Sussex fire station manager – who was the first woman to join the service in 1991 – has urged more women to consider becoming a firefighter.

Fleur Wilks, the station manager for Crowborough, Mayfield and Herstmonceux, joined the fire service in 1991 when she was 21.

“I was the first full-time female firefighter in East Sussex,” she said. “At the time I was absolutely unaware that there were no other female firefighters in the service.

“It was a very different environment to the modern fire service that we now know.”

In those 28 years much has changed – not just in terms of who the firefighters are, but what the job entails.

“It is not just going out on fire appliances with blue flashing lights and turning up at a fire,” Fleur said. “We do a lot more work on fire prevention,” explaining the community talks and home visits they conduct.

Station manager Fleur Wilks

Station manager Fleur Wilks

“I have just been going through my team’s training records and the variety of training and skills we expect them to have is really diverse.”

While the number of women in the fire service has steadily increased over the last couple of decades the topic of women in the fire service made the news today and trended on social media.

‘Fireman Sam’ ended up trending on Twitter following a debate TV presenter Piers Morgan started regarding whether the cartoon Fireman Sam was sexist.

In his tweet he suggested that any woman who thought the cartoon perpetuates male stereotypes and were ‘put off’ were not suitable to join the service in the first place.

In response, the Fire Brigades Union (a trade union in the UK for Firefighters) took to Twitter to respond to Morgan’s comments, saying: “Ensuring firefighting is an attractive career for women is crucial to making our services representative of their communities. Like it or not, popular culture has a role to play in that.”

So what does Fleur think?

“Women must not be put off joining the fire service by people like him on the TV,” she said, regarding Piers Morgan’s tweet.

“We are starting to have a workforce that reflects our diverse community and while I think we have a long way to go we certainly are in a much better position than we were 28 years ago. But we are still looking for more people to come through our doors and try to experience what it is like.

“When I joined I had no role model because there were no female firefighters. But now we can look at these amazing firefighters and officers and commanders in the fire service – they are our role models.”

East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service is organising a number of ‘have a go days’ as part of the summer recruitment drive. This will give men and women the chance to come into the station in the evening to see what the job includes and the type of training that is required.

“We are attempting to reach out to people who are wondering if it is right thing for them,” said Fleur.

“We need people in the fire service who are passionate to do the right thing for their community. We are looking for people who are able to take theoretical knowledge and demonstrate it practically, people who are flexible and who have a good level of fitness.”

You can find out more about the East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service here.

You can read more about Piers Morgan and his Fireman Sam tweet here: https://www.eastbourneherald.co.uk/read-this/fire-brigades-union-hits-out-piers-morgan