At the FBU conference in 1986, equality national officer Dan Riddell told the conference that the executive council had formed the equal opportunities committee to encourage Asians, Afro-Caribbeans and women to apply for jobs as firefighters and control staff.
He reminded delegates that there were just 35 female firefighters in nine of the 64 brigades employing 57,400, and just 210 black and ethnic minority firefighters in 22 brigades.
“These figures show that there are less than 0.5 per cent black and ethnic minority members employed and virtually nil per cent female as firefighters throughout the UK.
In conclusion, the executive council emphasise that not just because of the poor recruitment statistics alone does this union believe this is a matter of great importance. It is essential for the fire service and the community at large that we serve to be seen as representative of themselves.”
The committee sent a recommended policy to the executive council that included a declaration to be negotiated with fire authorities to promote equal opportunities within the fire service, and avoid racial or sexual harassment. The union published an equal opportunities document that “strongly stressed” that women and people from blacks and ethnic minority backgrounds had “every bit as much right to be members of the British fire service” as anybody else.
Little more than six months later, at the FBU’s conference in 1988, Riddell introduced a debate on equal opportunities and noted the successes won by the union over the past year. These included an end to local examinations, which had been used to exclude, or limit the number of, female firefighters in the service. Cheryl Wood, from Humberside, said she wanted the message to get through that the union was against discrimination on the grounds of “sex, race, creed or colour”.