Peter Rhodes on a windy anniversary and why all firefighters should be called firewomen

Peter Rhodes | Published:

ON this week's 30th anniversary, the national media still refer to The Great Storm of 1987. Rootling among my dispatches written at the time, I found a column from October 1987. It was entitled The Great Hurricane Hyperbole and made the point that it was not a Great British Hurricane, nor even a Great Southern British Hurricane. The 1987 thing affected only a small slice of southern England - "the VIP counties . . . where the Very Important People in television and newspapers happen to live." I believed then, and believe now, that if the 1987 storm had happened anywhere else in the UK it would barely have been reported. Then, as now, the national media rarely looked north of Watford.

Dany Cotton

LONDON'S Fire Commissioner, Dany Cotton, says "negative stereotypes" are putting women off joining the fire service. She declares: "One single thing that would help bring more women into the service? Stop saying firemen." Ms Cotton believes the inclusive word "firefighter" would be more helpful. Reality check, please. The truth is that every media organisation has been dutifully using "firefighter" for the past 20 years and yet female recruitment is still low.

I SUSPECT women are put off not by the wrong language but by the brigade's own rules - the physical tests demanded of all recruits. Consider this typical casualty-evacuation test: "Candidates in full PPE (personal protection equipment) will be required to drag a 55kg casualty walking backwards (guided by an assessor) around a 30-metre course." How many young women could attempt that? The problem is not sexism but biology. And if all firefighters were suddenly rebranded "firewomen," young men would still queue up to join and women would still stay away in droves.

THE official report on the sinking of HMS Sheffield in the 1982 Falklands War, released this week, is a sorry tale of unpreparedness. But hindsight is always crystal-clear and, as any old warrior will tell you, it requires a huge mental leap to switch from peace to war, and to comprehend that complete strangers are trying to kill you. One officer in the Falklands described seeing an Argentine Skyhawk dropping its bombs on British troops. His first thought was: "My God, don't they realise how dangerous that is?"

AND if you think HMS Sheffield was taken by surprise, and you are old enough, cast your mind back to 1982 and recall the appalling sense of disbelief. The entire nation was taken by surprise. I recall a friend ringing on the night we were told about Sheffield. He said: "I didn't realise it was going to be that sort of war."

AFTER yesterday's gripping item on buying dozens of guttering parts online, regular eBay purchasers will know what comes next. Sure enough, the emails arrived demanding to know exactly how fit-for-purpose are the fixers, joints, bends and the rest, followed by an invitation to write a review on each of the 10 different items. The last thing I was asked to review on eBay was a tub of fire cement. For pity's sake, how rhapsodic can you wax about a 68mm black PVC downpipe? Shall I compare thee to the fire cement?


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