This Saturday was Armed Services Day. Across the UK people gathered together, shared thoughts over social media, or just took a moment to reflect on the commitment of our armed services. I had the opportunity and privilege of attending a drumhead ceremony in Bradford to represent West Yorkshire FRS. Sitting there at the service and looking around it was impossible not to notice the veterans, cadets, reservists, patrolling Police officers and our own WYFRS band all identified by, and resplendent in, their uniforms and medals.
Wearing my uniform is a source of immense pride for me. It is a privilege that comes with my job. When I wear my uniform I am reminded of the traditions and heritage of our service. I am reminded that I am part of a team who all serve the public with the common purpose of keeping our community safe and protecting people from harm. My uniform identifies me to the community as someone who is there to help. I also wear different types of uniform. On a day to day basis I wear regular uniform, occasionally I will wear more formal uniform such as in the picture above, and when I attend incidents I wear a uniform that also happens to be my personal protective equipment. When I do wear my uniform I am always mindful of the need and expectation that I am smart and promoting the image of our service positively.
I also wear rank markings and rank insignia. There are different views on this issue. Some believe that the use of rank markings is outdated in what is essentially a civilian organisation. I wear my rank markings because they denote the responsibility that I carry, and I want people to know that I am accountable and that I am expected to lead. I have aspired for rank for much of my career. I wanted rank because I want to lead and shape our wonderful service, and to make it the best that it can be. In a service where there is an occasional view that rank markings are things of the past, I unashamedly wear mine with pride.
Do these views indicate that I think that anyone in our service who doesn’t wear a uniform or wear rank markings is not capable of leading, of being accountable or contributing to the future of our service? Absolutely not! What makes our service such an excellent one to be part of is the way that everyone, whatever they wear and whatever their role has a voice and a contribution to make. It’s not always as easy as it should be and we need to be better at that.
There are many views in our service about the wearing of uniform. It can be divisive. We have ‘uniform’ and ‘non-uniform’ staff, it’s part of our common terminology. Some of those ‘non-uniformed’ staff are simply not operational – but they still wear a uniform, some of them wear overalls – because that’s appropriate to their role, but it’s still a uniform of sorts. There are of course those that wear what they want to work as long, of course, as they conform to a dress code. Some of these may want to wear a uniform, some may not. It’s a complicated issue, and it’s impossible to please everyone.
I think that we in WYFRS can have a conversation about uniform and workwear. I know that is something that will elicit a range of views. There is not a huge amount of money available, so any change needs to be considered carefully and be based on a clear rationale to improve and progress.
There are days when I don’t wear a uniform. I may wear a suit and tie. I do this for one reason only. It’s not because I think that some people are wary of a uniform, I hope that the person wearing it (me in this case) dispels any need to be wary or suspicious of my role. The reason that I, on occasion, don’t wear a uniform is because I am travelling extensively outside of service premises or using public transport. On these occasions, unfortunately, my uniform may single me out as a target for those seeking to harm. I wear my uniform with pride, but I take sensible precautions when I consider the risk of harm from terrorists or others.
The motivation that drives those that want to harm our armed and protective services is complicated. Whilst I will never agree with their ideology, I can see how they rationalise their actions. Such actions are abhorrent and contrary to our culture – but that’s the point. It’s why we must, more than ever, consider what wearing a uniform means and celebrate the positive effect on our world by those that do.