EXCLUSIVE: Firefighters not at LGBT conference

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A group of firefighters who were the subject of tabloid news reports about a Bristol cruising ground did not attend a national conference tackling lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality in the fire and rescue service as originally planned.

The firefighters hit the headlines earlier this month when it was reported that they had been disciplined for “disturbing” men cruising.

In fact they were punished for being away from their station for no operational reason.

A member of the public had complained that the fire crew shone lights from their appliance into bushes on Bristol Downs where he and a group of other men were cruising.

The firefighters were based at Avonmouth station.

The Downs are not part of the “ground” or area covered by that station and they were disciplined for being away from their station and out of their area.

After a three month investigation, during which the unidentified firefighters were on paid suspension, two were fined £1000, one was demoted and one received a written warning.

The fact that the firefighters appeared to have disturbed men having sex sparked a tabloid frenzy.

It was planned that they would attend an event held this week by their fire service entitled, “Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transgender Equality in the Fire Service – An Absolute Taboo?”

However, a spokesperson for Avon Fire Rescue Service told PinkNews.co.uk that there was a change of plan.

“As part of their individual training, it was deemed that they would go along and have a better understanding of the issues.

“Unfortunately because of the media interest and coverage it was later decided that they would not go.

“We did not want this event to turn into a media circus – it was about the issues that we planned well over a year ago.”

The two-day event, which was organised by Avon Fire Rescue Service, has been hailed a success.

Gay equality organisation Stonewall worked in partnership with the Fire Brigades Union on the two-day conference in Bristol.

Representatives from the London Fire Brigade, the Chief Fire Officers Association, West Yorkshire Fire Service and the Scottish Transgender Alliance spoke at the event.

A New Mexico firefighter, Chief of Latir Volunteer Fire Department Jona Ollsen, shared her experiences and her struggle to fit in.

The 210 delegates also took part in workshops and sharing examples of best practice with each other.

“Our conference was a huge success,” said Kevin Pearson, Avon Fire Rescue Service Chief Fire Officer and Chief Executive.

“It offered Chief Fire Officers, government ministers, HR managers, trade unions and LGBT staff from across the fire service the opportunity talk openly about LGBT equality.

“Throughout the conference we heard some very moving stories about how LGBT staff have battled against the odds to fit in.

“The conference certainly put a very important issue at the top of the agenda for the fire and rescue service and I am now hoping those who attended will return to their workplaces and make a real difference to the lives of their LGBT staff.”

Mr Pearson was heavily criticised by sections of the media earlier this month, who claimed that he was being politically correct for disciplining the group of firefighters for “interrupting” gay men cruising.

One of the men caught by the torch light filed a complaint under advice from HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust.

A spokesperson for Avon Fire Rescue Service told PinkNews.co.uk:

“They were disciplined because they were on duty and they should have been at the station – the Downs were not even their patch. They should have been on the ground responding 999 calls.

“Our firefighters are there to protect the community and with a fire every minute counts.”

The spokesperson said all staff of the service undergo equality and diversity training.