Conference presentation

Trust, inequality and the Fire Service

Social Relations, Transformation and Trust
Coventry University
March 29, 2014


There is evidence from across the English speaking world that not everyone is at equal risk from fire. Studies have consistently identified factors associated with lower socio-economic status as markers of a higher risk of suffering loss as a result of an accidental fire. Preliminary analysis of incident data from a large urban Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) in England appears consistent with these past studies, demonstrating clear links between the rate of fire incidence and neighbourhood deprivation, particularly employment and income deprivation. Whilst fire safety interventions in recent times have been successful in dramatically reducing the incidence of accidental fire, a fundamental inequality in the distribution of fires persists.

Having outlined the analysis of FRS data, this paper moves on to explore the idea that one reason for this inequality may lie in the nature of the relationship between the FRS and the communities it serves. It is argued that many deprived communities have developed not merely low trust, but active distrust of any agency that is associated with the state. Despite the popular perception that fire fighters are held in universally high regard, this distrust extends to the FRS and may hamper efforts to communicate the fire safety message. A deeper understanding of the nature of this relationship, and the effect that the culture and structure of the FRS have on the relationship, is essential if the inequality of service outcomes is to be addressed.