Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Beyond the call of duty?

This story from The Times regarding the Glaswegian firmen who refused to attend a Gay Pride festival to hand out fire safety leaflets.

"The officers at the Cowcaddens station, led by watch manager Brian Herbert, claimed that they acted on moral grounds when they disobeyed an order to hand out fire safety literature at an event billed as a “gay, bisexual and transgender festival”. "

"Their stand was supported by the Fire Brigades Union, but the officers were sent written warnings and ordered to attend “diversity training” courses. Mr Herbert, who is just two years from retirement, was demoted to crew manager, resulting in a salary loss of £5,000 per year."

"At an internal hearing in Glasgow yesterday the firemen appealed against the punishments, arguing that they were entitled to object on grounds of conscience and that the public relations exercise was not a core part of their duties. "

An interesting principle here. The firefighters were punished for disobeying a direct order. "Quite right" some would say, and no doubt the usual suspects are lining up to accuse the firemen of homophobia and call them a million nasty names.

Consider for a second though what they were expected to do.

Handing out fire safety leaflets is a fairly common practice for fire crews at big events, and the benefits are obviously apparent in raising public awareness. However, did anyone stop to consider that this particular public gathering may be a bit different?

It is amazing that with all the fuss and discussion with the powers that be, that no one has dared to mention that perhaps asking any employee to attend a festival that is dedicated to sex and sexuality might be a bit strong for even the burliest fireman.

Imagine the equivalent scenario. Glasgow City Council decide to hold a massive straight sex festival. Into this mix, the local hospital decides to send a posse of that other cliched fantasy - nurses in full uniform - to hand out leaflets on health. (Notice here that there is probably a more direct connection between job and benefit than in the case of the firemen).

The outcry would be appalling. A group of young female nurses forced to endure the sly comments of men gathered with only one thing on their minds? What were they thinking? Women's groups would be outraged, newspapers would have a field day, heads would roll at the NHS trust.

However, sadly, for the poor firemen, the Fire Brigade has no such sensibilities towards its employees. Discrimination cuts one way in this case and others like it, and whilst the commentators foam at the mouth the poor sids who bear the brunt of the fallout are the poor undefended firefighters from Cowcaddens.

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