Page last updated at 16:03 GMT, Monday, 30 March 2009 17:03 UK

'Ethnic' fire uniforms launched

New firefighter uniform
One of the new "formal" designs incorporates a headscarf and long skirt

New firefighter uniforms, which include the option of a full-length skirt, hijab headscarf and a turban, have been launched.

Ministers said the new clothing, which will not form part of a firefighter's protective clothing, had been designed for an ethnically diverse workforce.

It is hoped the grey and red uniforms will encourage "the widest possible range of people" to apply to join.

Fire brigades across England will have the option to purchase the uniforms.

As well as being designed to reflect religious and cultural sensitivities, the new range also includes maternity and sportswear as well as more formal uniforms for fire-safety visits.

It also means that for the first time an "easily recognisable" standard uniform will be available for firefighters throughout England.

At present, firefighter uniforms vary across the nation.

Female firefighters now have the option of wearing uniforms designed specially for them rather than, as is presently the case, adapted versions of male uniforms.

We are pleased to note that the fire service is now taking seriously the issues of culture and religious belief when purchasing corporate and protective clothing for firefighters
Jagtar Singh
Asian Fire Service Association

Firefighter Nicola Lown from Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service, which helped test the new uniforms, said: "The uniform was comfortable in its entirety and the trousers, for once, fitted well."

Ministers hope the new uniforms will help to change the largely male, white image of England's fire and rescue services.

Only 5.5% of fire brigade staff in England are from an ethnic minority background and just 3.3% of all firefighters are women.

Fire minister Sadiq Khan said: "We want the widest range of applicants to apply to join the fire and rescue service.

"To achieve this it is important that all applicants - men and women - know that the uniform and clothing they will be issued with will not only protect them but will also fit properly and be comfortable.

"The introduction of more appropriately fitted clothing is just one initiative to help to both retain female firefighters and encourage others to consider a fire service career."

The new uniforms are available to fire brigades across England

He said the fire and rescue service needed employees from all ethnic groups "to reflect the diversity of our communities".

Mr Khan added: "This will enable better mutual understanding during fire safety visits.

"The uniform now available shows that cultural beliefs are being recognised, as we seek to increase the representation of ethnic minorities within the service."

Asian Fire Service Association spokesman Jagtar Singh said: "We are pleased to note that the fire service is now taking seriously the issues of culture and religious belief when purchasing corporate and protective clothing for firefighters."

Lincolnshire chief fire officer Mike Thomas helped develop the new uniforms.

He said: "I have been particularly impressed with the robust and extensive garment trials and the development of the national identity."

Before the new uniforms were passed as fit for service they were tested at the Health and Safety Laboratory in Buxton, Derbyshire.

As well as flame trials, the uniforms were tested for ease of movement, whether they kept the firefighter cool, and how easy it was to carry out awkward tasks while wearing protective gloves.

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