CHILDREN’S TV star Fireman Sam has been singled out as an unlikely opponent in the battle for gender equality.
Leading South Yorkshire fire officer Alex Johnson (below), who is campaigning to attract more women into the 999 service, said the CGI firefighting idol and images of men rushing into burning buildings did little to encourage young women to go into male-dominated professions.
She said just five per cent of firefighters were women and only a handful had senior positions, a situation she described as “shocking”.
“This is largely because of the image of firefighters portrayed in the media and in films, which is of men rushing into burning buildings to rescue people,” said Ms Johnson.
“Children’s shows like Fireman Sam don’t help to break down stereotypes either.
“Most of the job is nothing like it is portrayed — we do community and youth engagement work, where we need to be seen to be representative of the population.
“Women and people from different ethnic backgrounds are simply not considering being a firefighter because they are not seeing themselves represented.”
Fireman Sam was first aired an 1987 and finally recruited a female crewmate, Penny, in 2003, although Sam continues to save the day in most episodes.
The comments from Ms Johnson, currently temporary deputy chief fire officer from South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue, echo the stance of London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton, who in 2017 name-checked Fireman Sam as she backed the gender-neutral term “firefighter” and asked for the show’s name to be changed to Firefighter Sam.
Notable female children’s TV role models in traditionally male-dominated areas include Maddie Moate, who fronts the science discovery show Do You Know? and won a Children’s BAFTA in 2017, and the cartoon bunny Tweak, chief engineer of the crew of CBeebies’ underwater adventurers, the Octonauts.
Bob the Builder’s sidekick, Wendy, meanwhile, is now more involved in construction work since the show was revamped in 2016.
Ms Johnson, who was speaking at an International Women’s Day event at the New York Stadium last Tuesday, has fronted a social media campaign to get women to join the fire service, which focusses on children singing the praises of their firefighter mums.
A spokeswoman for Mattel, which represents the Fireman Sam brand, said the company was committed to representing the work of all firefighters appropriately through the show.
“Fireman Sam is a much-loved and iconic brand and we are constantly evolving to make sure that we stay true to the show’s heritage, as well as representing the world that children see around them today,” she added.
“The team are always referred to throughout the show as ‘firefighters’ — except Sam, whose title has not evolved in his role as the show’s namesake.
“We recognise the need to stay relevant and we continue to evaluate the show to ensure Sam remains an aspirational hero for generations of pre-schoolers.”
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