Firemen see red over unisex changing room

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The Independent Online

Alarm bells are ringing at a fire station where 59 male firefighters have been ordered to share their changing room with a female colleague. The firefighters say they are appalled at the idea of stripping off in front of 24-year-old Rebecca Walker.

They claim some men were threatened with disciplinary action when they turned out on parade in civilian trousers rather than change into their uniform in front of Miss Walker who was finishing her shift on blue watch.

The row began after Miss Walker was given permission to change in the male locker room instead of a first floor lavatory she had been using at Worcester Fire Station where she is the only female firefighter.

Leading fireman Bob Clifton, 49, said "We may be hicks from the sticks but we have some idea of common sense and decency - and it's gone out of the window. The main problem is when you are stripped off naked. Nobody should be put in this position - it's not a bloody peep show. I don't walk around stark naked in front of my daughter so why should I strip off in front of a woman at work.

"There is a lot of ill feeling down there. The men are genuinely concerned. Some of them now change behind their locker doors and some of the wives don't like the situation.

"It's not a case of being prudish - it's just taking equal opportunities too far."

The Fire Brigades Union will meet Hereford and Worcester County Council chiefs next week in an bid to resolve the dispute. Reg Moule, FBU county secretary, said: "The problem is not of the fire fighters' making. They have been told they have to lump it and I'm absolutely appalled. I've no objection to having communal locker areas but provision has not been made to allow people to change with any decency." Miss Walker was unavailable to comment.

But a spokesman for the county council, which employs 10 female firefighters, said: "The decision to integrate the locker room is a part of a successful campaign by the county fire service to incorporate the council's equal opportunity measures throughout the brigade ... This is not a question of asking people to strip naked - just a question of changing into their uniform."