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«ANGLIA POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY GENDER RELATIONS, MASCULINITIES AND THE FIRE SERVICE: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF FIREFIGHTERS’ CONSTRUCTIONS OF ...»

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ANGLIA POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY

GENDER RELATIONS, MASCULINITIES AND THE

FIRE SERVICE: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF

FIREFIGHTERS’ CONSTRUCTIONS OF

MASCULINITY DURING FIREFIGHTING AND IN

THEIR SOCIAL RELATIONS OF WORK.

DAVE BAIGENT

A Thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements of Anglia Polytechnic University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy Submitted: May 2001 dave.baigent@fitting-in.com ii

ANGLIA POLYTECHNIC UNIVERSITY

ABSTRACT

SCHOOL OF LANGUAGES AND SOCIAL SCIENCES

DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY

GENDER RELATIONS, MASCULINITIES AND THE FIRE SERVICE:

A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF FIREFIGHTERS’ CONSTRUCTIONS OF MASCULINITY

DURING FIREFIGHTING AND IN THEIR SOCIAL RELATIONS OF WORK.

By Dave Baigent May 2001 This thesis is a qualitative study of firefighters, and focuses on how firefighters, a predominantly male, white and able-bodied group with popular public support, form tight knit teams on and off the fireground, and their motivations for so doing. It is also a study of gender, which aims to describe and deconstruct masculinity. In part the thesis was undertaken with a view to assisting the fire service (specifically the few women who are firefighters) with its difficulties in relation to equal opportunities.

One understanding the thesis provides is that firefighters bond around a common professional ethos: to provide an efficient service to help the public. To achieve this, firefighters form informal hierarchies through which they create protocols for firefighting, thus setting the standards for what comprises a ‘good firefighter’: a label firefighters test themselves against when they ‘get in’ to fight a fire. However, before firefighters can achieve this they must first access the skills of firefighting (which experienced firefighters are pleased to hand on), but only after a newcomer ‘fits in’ with the agendas of the informal hierarchy, some of which have little to do with firefighting.

However, there is a second view, and this suggests that ‘fitting in’ and ‘getting in’ to pass the test of being seen as a ‘good firefighter’ also coincides with the way firefighters form their masculinity.

This then provides a second common cause amongst firefighters, and so might explain why firefighters gather so successfully under the umbrella of their union to resist their officers’ attempts to deskill and cut the fire service. Cuts would limit firefighters’ ability both to fight fires as they currently do and to pass the test of being a ‘good firefighter’. Thus blocking a third central but unacknowledged element: that of masculinity. This analysis involves a discussion of class, and recognition that antagonistic relations between officers and firefighters are not only economic, but are also about petty dividends involving power, status and gender construction.

–  –  –

Firefighters and sociologists are alike, they have to learn how to do their work and at each stage they have to pass certain tests. In order to be seen as a ‘good firefighter’ a firefighter must ‘prove’ to their colleagues that they can ‘get in’ at a fire and to enable them to breathe in the poisonous atmosphere in which they will be working, they use breathing apparatus. This is a sort of aqualung and they train to use this safely inside a smoke chamber where teams of firefighters negotiate what they call a ‘rat run’, a series of physical structures/obstacles placed in their pathway.

Firefighters soon learn (often by the physical knocks they take in bumping into the structures and tripping into holes) how to avoid these pitfalls and because they work in teams they share this knowledge as they train by pointing out to the next firefighter in the team the presence of obstacles. Breathing apparatus training not only teaches firefighters about manoeuvring in smoke, but how to ‘fit in’ as a team and alongside all the other skills a ‘good firefighter’ may learn, ‘fitting in’ makes firefighting safer.

The route to a PhD is somewhat similar to that of being seen as a ‘good firefighter’, there is a need to avoid pitfalls along the way and finally to seek peer group approval. However, for the student as opposed to the firefighter the structures to be overcome are not physical restraints- you are not liable to bump your head or fall down a flight of stairs.

The restraints are social and applied by other academics as a form of test that has to be passed to gain their recognition.

To help them to negotiate and ‘fit in’ with the structures of academia the PhD student chooses supervisors and at that time neither student nor supervisor know how this relationship is going to develop. Four years ago I was in that situation, and whilst during the research and writing process I might have occasionally wondered if my supervisors were actually on my side, it is clear to me that without them this thesis would not have been produced. Their support has been magnificent; they have not protected their skills, but shared them. They have allowed me to ‘get into’ academia by guiding me through the social restraints and protocols that academia lays down with a level of patience that I am in awe of. To Shirley Prendergast and Jeff Hearn, two very special people in my life, I say thank you.





There have been others who have helped me with this research, but apart from one other very special person there are only five more that I can name. The unnamed ones are those people who talked to me, provided the evidence for this thesis and whose identity I must keep secret. Amongst these are individuals and sections within the fire service and related organisations that gave assistance and information, especially the library staff at the fire service college who helped me on so many occasions. However, most of those who are not named have not been as silent as the librarians;

they are the firefighters and officers who took part in the interviews so essential to my thesis. Some of them may recognise their words in the pages that follow and I hope I have represented them properly, because they are this thesis.

To all of them I say a heartfelt thank you.

One person I must thank, (although as the enormity of the task became clear I wonder why), and that is Tom Ling. He had sufficient belief in this working class boy to suggest that I did a PhD and as such showed the same confidence as Kevin Bonnett did at an earlier time when he accepted me at APU to study for a first degree (when the only qualifications I put on my application form were that I had a GCE and was very good at kicking down doors). In what comes as a complete surprise to me (possibly even more to those teachers who first taught me pre-1960 in my secondary school), is the fact that this thesis is now complete and examiners willing I should soon have a PhD. If anything ever proved how wrong selective education was, here is the evidence. As an old rather than mature student, the lecturers at APU gave me a second chance and to each of them I say a big thank you.

Three people have been outstanding friends to me in regard to this thesis. During the writing up stage two have helped me to put my words in a more coherent manner, and to David Howells and Sue Ferguson I say thank you. I have had one contemporary throughout the four years research, Marilyn Meadows, who without her illness would have completed before me. To Marilyn I say thank you for your friendship: it is your turn next.

That leaves only one other person without whom I could not have completed this work. However, I am not thanking her for what she has done, but rather for what she has not done. That is Carole my partner, who married a firefighter who turned into a sociologist. At times this thesis has physically stolen me from her, at other times I have been ensconced in my office at home as if a stranger renting lodgings and when we did spend time together I seemed unable to talk about anything but my research. Had our situations been reversed I would not have been silent at such times, nor I suspect would I have been quite so accepting of the changes that occurred in my partner as they moved from firefighter to academic. She proved her love by giving me the freedom to do this PhD, and to her I say the biggest and last thank you. Perhaps now we can return to normal, whatever that might now be.

iv

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

1.1. Introduction 1.1.1 Firefighters’ masculinity 1.1.2 Research questions

1.2. Methodology

1.3. The fire service 1.3.1. History 1.3.2. Fire Services Act (1947) 1.3.3. Fire service ethos: to provide an efficient service to help the public 1.3.4. Stations 1.3.5. Watches 1.3.6. Formal hierarchies 1.3.7. The link to the military 1.3.8. Respect 1.3.9. The gap between firefighters and senior officers 1.3.10. Senior officers’ firefighting experience

1.4. Firefighters’ industrialisation and organisation 1.4.1. Left wing union 1.4.2. Undermanning 1.4.3. Service for the sixties 1.4.4. Cleaning 1.4.5. Discipline code 1.4.6. Cutting the fire service 1.4.7. Shared understandings 1.4.8. Secondary work: fiddle jobs

1.5. Welfare and benevolent

1.6. Working arrangements for firefighters

1.7. Operational duties 1.7.1. Attending emergencies 1.7.2. Always ready 1.7.3. How many calls?

1.8. Standing-by 1.8.1. Conflict 1.8.2. Firefighters’ protocols for firefighting and more

1.9. Standing-down

1.10. Comparison with similar organisations

1.11. Theoretical views on gender 1.11.1. Social embodiment 1.11.2. A picture of masculinity 1.11.3. Gender and class 1.11.4. Firefighters’ masculinity 1.11.5. Looking at a way forward

1.12. THE THESIS

2. CHAPTER TWO: METHODOLOGY

2.1. Introduction

2.2. Pro-feminist auto-critique 2.2.1. Feminist methods 2.2.2. Pro-feminist auto-critique 2.2.3. Some pro-feminist auto-critique 2.2.4. Not a traditional academic

2.3. The research 2.3.1. Using experiential knowledge 2.3.2. Am I ‘at home’ or not?

2.3.3. Marginal natives: auto-anthropologists v 2.3.4. Self-interrogation: a critique 2.3.5. Some more auto-critique

2.4. Access and ethics 2.4.1. Kinship, closure and dividends 2.4.2. Access bordering on trespass 2.4.3. What can I expect?

2.4.4. The boob test 2.4.5. Risking my new identity 2.4.6. Do the ends justify the means?

2.4.7. Access

2.5. Interviewing firefighters 2.5.1. Firefighter’s ability to talk 2.5.2. The agency of the respondent: deceit

2.6. Methodology: producing relevant research for academics and firefighters 2.6.1. Grounded Theory 2.6.2. A secret garden: a source of power that avoids the gaze 2.6.3. Doing grounded theory

2.7. Watching the watch

2.8. Qualitative data 2.8.1. Interviews with firefighters 2.8.2. Formal interviews 2.8.3. Observations of the fire service 2.8.4. Less formal data collection

2.9. Quantitative data

2.10. Anonymity

2.11. My paid employment

2.12. Omissions

3. CHAPTER THREE: FIREFIGHTING: GETTING IN

3.1. Introduction 3.1.1. An introduction to firefighting

3.2. How do firefighters develop the protocols and skills necessary for firefighting?

3.2.1. The training centre 3.2.2. The transition to the station 3.2.3. The ‘good firefighter’ 3.3.4. Sharing experiential knowledge

3.3. What does ‘getting in’ mean to firefighters?

3.3.1. Tell me about ‘The Job’

3.4. Why, given the apparent danger involved, do firefighters get in at a fire?

3.4.1. Persons reported 3.4.2. Last resort 3.4.3. Is there more to firefighting than helping the public?

3.4.4. Is there a link between ‘persons reported’ and other fires?

3.4.5. Experiential knowledge provides a possible explanation 3.4.6. Testing yourself and others/each other

3.5. Risk taking 3.5.1. Is getting in reckless?

3.5.2. Heroes, risk takers or adrenaline junkies?

3.5.3. An ‘older hand’ on the tiller

3.6. Not ‘fitting in’

3.7. Conclusion 3.7.1. Homosociality 3.7.2. Heroes 3.7.3. The hypotheses

4. CHAPTER FOUR RELATIONS AT THE STATION: FITTING IN

4.1. Introduction

4.2. The gaze of experienced firefighters 4.2.1. Watching 4.2.2. Advice 4.2.3. Fitting in 4.2.4. Previous experience 4.2.5. Behaviour learnt at work 4.2.6. Some recruitment criteria 4.2.7. The link to the operational 4.2.8. Theoretical sampling for resistance 4.2.9. The experienced firefighter vi 4.2.10. Retiring firefighters 4.2.11. A first exception

4.3. Real resistance 4.3.1. ‘Tubby Taffy’ 4.3.2. ‘Charlie’ 4.3.3. ‘I am a mild man’

4.4. Humour 4.4.1. Humour in dangerous occupations 4.4.2. Teamwork and the windup

4.5. Officers 4.5.1. Leaving the operational watch 4.5.2. Careerists

4.6. Links between getting in and fitting in 4.6.1. At the station/fitting in 4.6.2. Why is there so little resistance?

4.6.3. Self-selecting groups and transfers 4.6.4. The right to transfer

4.7. Conclusion

5. CHAPTER FIVE THE GAP BETWEEN FIREFIGHTERS AND OFFICERS: CLASS, HIERARCHIES,

RESISTANCE AND GENDER CONSTRUCTION

5.1. Introduction 5.1.2.Traditional class relations

5.2. The officers 5.2.1. Single tier entry promotion (STEP) 5.2.2. Principal officers’ view 5.2.3. The BCC view 5.2.4. The view from the station: “all piss and importance” 5.2.5. Respect 5.2.6. A telling example

5.3. Creating a distance 5.3.1. Paperwork 5.3.2. Would you take promotion?

5.3.3. Senior officers’ views 5.3.4. Conclusion

5.4. Who is in charge?

5.4.1. How the watch organise 5.4.2. Dynamic risk assessment (DRA) 5.4.3. Officers’ caution 5.4.4. BA Control 5.4.5. ‘Drilling’ 5.4.6. Fire Prevention (FP)/Community Fire Safety (CFS) 5.4.7. Conclusion

5.5. Masculinity 5.5.1. It’s a man’s job 5.5.2. Sexual adventures 5.5.3. Special people 5.5.4. Female firefighters 5.5.5. Female ‘irrationality’ 5.5.6. Where are we now?



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