London Fire Dept. Fights for Gender-neutral Titles

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If we were to randomly say five words related to emergency, what would it be? 1. Police 2. Ambulance 3. Firemen 4. Fire engine 5. doctor. Probably these would have been the first few words that would have popped up in our minds. While we are mentioning Police and doctor, why not just firefighter instead of firemen?

Trying to research through the internet about the firefighters, the following were the few lines that had surfaced, “A Fireman’s job is not just what we are used to seeing on TV. It is a physically and mentally challenging occupation that requires constant attention, dedication, and training to make sure the fireman is on top of his game when called into an emergency situation. Firemen brave extremely hazardous conditions and long, irregular shifts on a near-daily basis. They are on call at all hours and must respond immediately to extinguish or control fires and respond to other emergency situations.”

While this looks like any normal description about the job, I had realised the peculiarity about it only after the recent looming of the #FireFightersCampaign.


London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton has recently launched a campaign to stop people using the term ‘fireman’ and to use the gender neutral ‘firefighters’ instead. Ms Cotton launched the anti-sexism campaign during the Women of the Year Award 2017.

Born in London, Dany Cotton, 48, became the capital’s first female fire commissioner in January.  She told The Guardian in January: ‘One single thing that would help bring more women into the service? Stop saying ‘fireman’. ‘Why did they have to go for Fireman Sam? What’s wrong with Firefighter Sam? She is urging people to show their support with the hashtag #firefightingsexism over concerns the term ‘fireman’ that could put women off joining the service.  She added that ‘Firemen’ are outdated and people should use the term ‘firefighters’ instead.

The launch of the campaign comes at a busy time for the brigade, as the Grenfell Inquiry continues. The main purpose of this campaign is to shake off outdated language which stops young girls from considering this rewarding and professional career.

Firefighting was formerly an all-male profession. While it is dominated by men in both professional and volunteer contexts today as well, there are women who fight fire alongside their male counterparts which are quite often ignored.

Simran Khosla, 19, pursuing economics from Lady Shri Ram College for Women mentioned how these terms have become a part of the everyday dictionary and have been accepted as a colloquial term without giving attention to certain details. She said, “The professional world out there is harsh with sexism thriving till date. If this campaign would not have surfaced, probably none of us would be thinking over such terms that are prevalent. Bringing your observant glasses on, you would easily see the number of stereotypes prevalent. The term “Chairman” is used instead of Chairperson in most of the corporate offices. While it’s a neutral job profile, it’s unbelievable to think that these words have been constantly used in a way that we have accepted it and never took efforts to challenge it. It’s time we do”

This was reflected during Arundhati Bhattacharya’s stint as SBI’s Chairman. The former chairman of SBI on assuming office printed her business cards as chairperson but the bank’s legal department advised her against it as the SBI Act did not have any provision for a chairperson.

It’s evident in the Indian context as to how well we have accepted this as the way of life. How many have us have seen women firefighters? Hardly any considering how it has been stereotyped as men’s profession.

Simran Chatrath, 19, pursuing psychology in Amity University mentions that in our country women are not celebrated and that has not been questioned until lately.

She says, “News about women are never highlighted and thus very few people are aware of the same. How many of us knew that in 2003, the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services appointed Priya Ravichandran as a Divisional fire officer, making her one of the first female fire officers in the country, and the first one to win Anna Medal for Bravery in Tamil Nadu in 2013?Also, that in 2012, the Mumbai Fire Brigade inducted five women firefighters, making them the first in the history of the organisation? Hardly few of us or worst, none.

This is the situation when women’s activities and achievements are not considered up to the mark due to the comparison of their performance with men, while there should be no comparison but rather talk about the firsts in any field by women considering the perpetual state of patriarchy and stereotypes that they have been conditioned to live”.

While there are some improvements in the movie industry wherein the gender-neutral “Actor” has been appropriated to address movie stars. But this division is still a bone of contention in various fields.

With the evolution of the social media platforms, women are coming together to raise their issues and concerns. For any issue to be spread wide across, one important feature is the need for solidarity. Social media has strengthened that between women all across the world. Such campaigns bring about a change not just in the context it is based upon but in fact, kick-starts the conversation in various other fields.

This shows how just a normal thought if expressed on a platform, could rise different streams, among different people encouraging them to open up.

Also Read: How #Hashtags have emerged as a #Deviceforchange

Reshma Ganeshbabu is an intern with SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed in this column are author’s own.