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International Fire and Safety Journal speak with the Co-Founders of the Women in Fire Safety Awards 

Traditionally, the fire safety fraternity has been dominated predominantly by males. However, whilst this may still be the case, the number of women entering the industry is increasing. Even within the fire services, the latest reports show that the numbers are going up each year. In 2019 it was estimated that 6.4 per cent of firefighters were women. While this number may be low, it is rising year on year. 

Of course, the fire safety sector does spread across those working as installers, technicians, fire safety managers and many other roles. For those occupying these roles, the Women in Fire Safety Awards is helping to highlight and honour the outstanding achievements and contributions of all women within the fire safety community. International Fire and Safety Journal recently caught up with the Co-Founders of the awards Chloe Vickery and Katie Blake. 

Getting started 

Although still in its infancy, the Women in Fire Safety Awards is already establishing itself as a key event for the industry. Its Co-Founders are well placed to highlight the excellent work carried out within fire safety, as they both have experience in the sector. Blake reveals how she became involved in the fire industry prior to the awards: “My history is more construction, starting off my career for a contractor as a quantity surveyor. I was looking after a local social housing contract and an M&E contract. I was often the only female in the room, which was also in college too, however I’m hopeful things are getting better in that regard. 

“The company I worked for went into liquidation, so I had to look for a new position and ended up working as an estimator within a large Merchant wholesaler but progressed fast to become National Account Manager looking after a number of large contractors. From there I went on to work for a Domestic Fire Alarm Manufacturer, which is where I met Chloe.” It was when Blake and Vickery met that the early days of the Women in Fire Safety Awards started. Vickery herself had already gained some experience within fire safety, having started out in the sector as a teenager.

Vickery discusses how those years helped form the Women in Fire Safety Awards: “Admittedly, I fell into the industry as a teen by accident shortly after leaving school because when you are at that age, you don’t really know about the different vocations available to you in fire safety. Since then, I have worked for fire safety contractors, fire alarm distributors, fire alarm manufacturers and now I’m a fire risk assessor.    

“I used to shy away from questions in relation to my history within the industry as I regularly suffered from imposter syndrome due to my gender, age and appearance. However, over time I have realised that we all contribute and strive towards safer communities in a variety of different ways. All of these contributions should be acknowledged, recognised and celebrated. This is one of the many reasons we founded the Women in Fire Safety Awards.” 

Improving diversity 

Part of the goal of the awards is to improve diversity in the industry, and that is also partly why they decided to set the awards up initially. Both Blake and Vickery decided that due to their own experiences, they wanted to highlight the work carried out by the women of the fire safety industry. On this, Vickery comments: “Due to my personal experience within the industry I really wanted to do more to support women, celebrate those championing diversity and recognise all who contribute towards safer communities.

“After reflecting on what more could I do, the idea of the Women in Fire Safety Awards was born. Immediately, I approached my good friend Kate as I knew we had both have faced similar challenges as females and had a shared passion in improving diversity.” 

Blake concludes: “We both had expressed over our time working together, that we felt there was a lack of diversity throughout the whole industry, however we knew that it couldn’t be changed overnight.” 

Although the awards are still relatively new, there is already a clear, long-term plan as to how they can help address the gender imbalance within fire safety. Blake reveals how they are aiming to tackle the imbalance: “We all know this is an issue, and we know it won’t be fixed overnight, however, with our supporters we look to tackle this by highlighting the different career paths within the industry alongside supporting and celebrating those who are already doing incredible jobs.”  

Vickery adds: “We have created an educational video to show some of these incredible women to familiarise the audience with the women who already fulfil these roles, inspire others at any age and highlight the variety of different vocations. Upon completion, this video will be available to all, and we are constantly looking at finding new ways to encourage the next generation to create a sustainability for the industry for many years to come.” 

A collaborative approach 

The ongoing relationship between Vickery and Blake has helped to form what is now the awards in their final form, and the collaboration between the two has helped to get the first award ceremony in place. On the reacting of the industry to the first event, Blake comments: “We have been overwhelmed and humbled by the reaction. You obviously don’t know if something like this will be embraced or not. We had never organised a whole event before like this, and at moments would question each other ‘what on earth are we doing?’. 

“ However, we took things a chunk at a time, gaining partners, getting advice, networking and learning what the industry wanted. And yes, we couldn’t have wished for a better response. We were so proud of the wonderful nominees; the standard was so high. Just so inspiring. A huge thank you for all who supported us and put their faith in us for our first Women in Fire Safety Awards.” 

Industry Challenges  

The awards play an important role in continuing the education that helps to promote diversity in fire safety, and progress has been made to ensure that attitudes continue to change. Despite this, there are still some prejudices, many of which that come from those outsides of the fire safety sector. This is something Vickery believes is a regular occurrence: “As a woman in fire safety, I honestly could not tell you how many times I have attended a premises and someone outside of the industry has said to me ‘we were expecting a man’. It is really heart breaking because you start to have self-doubts and mentally feel you then have to go above and beyond the expectations to gain respect.

“To overcome this, we have created an educational video to familiarise the audience that many incredible women already fulfil these incredible job roles within the fire safety community and are constantly looking for new ways to improve diversity.” 

However, Blake believes that she is starting to see positive change, and educational activities such as the video can help create a more diverse industry: “I’ve been working in various industries since the late 1980s and I’m seeing change. I don’t think that because it’s a male dominated industry, that the men in the industry don’t want women coming in. Quite the opposite, we have been really welcomed.

“The main questions we have had is how we do this, and I really think it begins at school. Showing young people what options are out there. There are so many careers within the industry, it’s not one size fits all, so by highlighting these opportunities, over time, we can create a more diverse industry. Not just for women, either, having a stronger and more diverse working environment is better for society as a whole.” 

Planning for the future 

The Women in Fire Safety Awards is a long-term investment for both Vickery and Blake. As they continue to invest time in changing the perception of women working in fire safety, it will likely plan an ever-increasing role in attracting more women to the sector. As this happens, it is inevitable that the awards will evolve.

Vickery reveals the immediate plans to grow the event: “The Women in Fire Safety Awards will most definitely be a yearly event and a key date in the fire safety community calendar. We are also in the process of creating a networking group for all women within the industry, from Business to Fire Safety Managers, and are planning the three peaks challenge to raise money for charity in 2022.”