Fire fighters, neighbourhoods and social identity: The relationship between the fire service and residents in Bristol.
PhD, University of the West of England.
Although sporadic attacks on fire crews have long been acknowledged as an occupational hazard facing the fire service, in the mid 2000s, attacks seemed to be increasing in both prevalence and severity, accompanied by a feeling that fire safety messages were being resisted in certain communities. However, those communities were also those typified by numerous fire risk factors, potentially endangering people and property. In recognition of this growing problem, Avon Fire and Rescue Service (AFRS) and Great Western Research (GWR) established this research project at UWE to explore issues of hostility and resistance to fire safety messages, particularly in certain communities. The research is underpinned by social identity approaches, which look at the nature of the group dynamic and interaction between residents and fire fighters, positing that group membership has the potential to lead to conflict in and of itself, but especially where those groups are in proximate and appropriate contexts, such as those found in hard pressed neighbourhoods. This research project utilised qualitative methods to examine this relationship, starting with an ethnographic enquiry alongside operational fire fighters. A second study used focus groups in three neighbourhoods to examine residents’ perspectives, and a third looked at a series of interactions in community settings. Findings suggest a mutual distrust of non-group members, whereby residents resent fire fighters for their intrusion into neighbourhoods and fire fighters resent residents for requiring interventions into their community. Both parties had strong feelings about what fire fighters ought to be doing, and this fitted in with ideas of traditional roles of fire fighting and gender distinctions within communities. There are a number of implications for the FRS in this research project, including an ongoing need to address expectations both of operational fire fighters, for example through recruitment, and residents themselves who engage with fire fighters as one of a panoply of public services, rather than as the unique service provider that fire fighters consider themselves.
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