South Yorkshire’s chief, Jamie Courtney, was brought to task for using “gender specific” language at a Rotherham Council meeting after a complaint was subsequently received from a member of the public.
Responding to the complaint, Diana Terris, clerk to South Yorkshire Fire Authority, wrote back saying she had raised the chief’s use of “gender specific” language with him and “discussed the matter with both the Chair and Vice Chair of the Authority.”
She went on: “The Chief Fire Officer is grateful for this to have been highlighted and apologises unreservedly and would have done so without question at the time had it been pointed out.
“He is a great advocate of equality and diversity within the Fire and Rescue Service, a point affirmed by both the Chair and Vice Chair of the Authority.”
Mr Courtney declined to comment.
Instead, a South Yorkshire Fire Service spokeswoman said: “The Chief has already responded via the Clerk to the Authority and has apologised unreservedly and would have done so at the time had it been pointed out to him.
“No further statements will be issued.”
The chief used the word “man” four times and the word “he” four times when describing the role of the fifth firefighter in a five person crew in an apparent assumption the crew member would be male.
He used the language during a response to a question from Rotherham councillor Victoria Cusworth at the authority’s Overview and Scrutiny Management Board last month.
The person who made the complaint, who did not wish to be identified, said: “I felt his language was minimising the role of women in the fire service especially as International Women’s Day had just taken place and South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue had made a video highlighting the role women play in the service.
“There aren’t many women firefighters and it’s important not to just see firefighters as men.”
He added: “I would rather he had personally apologised which I think would have carried more weight rather than other people apologising on his behalf.”
The issue of women in the fire service nationally has been a sensitive one given there are relatively few female firefighters. South Yorkshire only has 42 wholetime and retained duty firefighters who are women out of a total of 672.
Last autumn, London Fire Brigade’s first woman chief, Dany Cotton, declared there was no such thing as a “fireman” – only firefighters - and added: “I want to shake off outdated language which we know is stopping young girls and women from considering this rewarding and professional career.”
The female chair of South Yorkshire’s Fire Brigade Union, Nicky Brown, said: “On behalf of my female members I welcome the apology from the Chief Fire Officer for the terminology he used in the recent public meeting at Rotherham Council.
“The Fire Service nationally and locally goes to great lengths to promote itself as an Equal Opportunities Employer and it is essential that the senior representatives of the organisation are seen to endorse this ethos.”