Asian Fire Service Association annual conference

The Asian Fire Service Association (AFSA) annual conference was a large gathering of public service personnel and public services, private and voluntary organisations and representatives of the communities from across the country.



Event host and former CFO James Courtney, South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service


More than 200 delegates attended to examine the contemporary issues of diversity, equality and inclusion, explore best practice in valuing diversity and creating an inclusive culture, under the conference’s thematic banner of ‘Diversity is a reality, Inclusion is a choice.’

Alex Johnson, the newly appointed CFO of South Yorkshire FRS, introduced her predecessor James Courtney, who opened the conference and welcomed the delegates. James gave an inspiring snapshot of history highlighting the diversity that shaped the South Yorkshire region. He emphasised the importance of diversity and inclusion to the Fire Service with the words that “fire doesn’t discriminate, and neither do we.”

Johnson explained that she was determined to ensure delegates get three key benefits from attending the conference: (1) help them build on the narrative of why diversity is important and inclusion is vital (2) how we can activate the system so it is everyone’s responsibility (3) how we can embed diversity and inclusion into key fire services policies from the safety plan to the workforce plan.

AFSA Chair Dalvinder Rai then spoke of the importance of taking away key learning from the conference and using the two days to network and celebrate the good practice taking place already. Jagtar Singh, AFSA’s National Advisor, briefed the conference on what it means to be a part of the AFSA family.



AFSA conference delegates outside the venue, Crowne Plaza Royal Victoria, Sheffield




FIRE Editor and Chair of The Fire Fighters Charity, Andrew Lynch, presents AFSA awards to Sean McMenamin and the Hampshire FRS Everest Base Camp Team

Recognising Diversity

The first speaker was Alison Dyson. She spoke about her journey of transitioning and working with the South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service to advance the understanding of transgender. She stressed the importance of being open and understanding and recognising diversity.

The two days saw several national and international speakers – professionals from the public and private sectors – deliver highly informative presentations on topical issues relevant to equality, diversity and inclusion.

Hugh Giles, from Capsticks Solicitors, gave a glimpse of the history of disability legislation in the UK, and what it has meant in practice.

National Fire Chiefs Council Chair, Ray Wilsher, talked about the challenges for the Fire Service in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower incident and phase 1 report and what the Service may look like in 2024.

Des Tidbury, who is currently an advisor to the Bahrain government, touched on the economic, social and cultural diversity of Bahrain and how it is impacting on the development of its services.

Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK, provided an insight into the challenges people with a disability continue to face.

Professor Adam Dinham, from Goldsmith University, London, gave an update of the religious demography of the UK, and signposted the policymakers to the changes.

Teresa Boughey, CEO of National Jungle HR Consultancy, gave a synopsis of the various tools that can be used to weave diversity into the fabric of organisations and closing the gap caused by diversity deficit.

Day one was concluded with four workshops, where delegates worked specifically on action about race, disability, mental health and LGBT issues.

Optimising Performance

To open day two, Dr Steve Peters gave a scintillating presentation on optimising individual performance and Ann Millington talked about shared belief systems and how to create an inclusive culture and a sense of community.

Marrion Heppel, Director of People, Humberside Fire and Rescue Service, spoke about the UN sponsored ‘HeforShe’ campaign. Yasmin Bukhari, National General Secretary of AFSA, updated the conference on the progress of the HeforShe campaign.

This was followed by Wayne Brown, the Deputy Chief Fire Officer of West Midlands Fire and Rescue service, who delivered a spell-binding account of his career journey, his transition from a top football professional player of the first division in the 90s to the Fire Service. Vijaya Nath finished the day with another captivating account of a personal journey and how her work across the globe has helped her to understand the processes of implementing change.

Day two concluded with four further workshops on ‘Model of Good Practice’ for involvement of public and staff in service redesign, making workforce positive action work, inclusive English and communication skills – handling cultural diversity in critical contexts, and police and fire community safety, team and collaboration.

Once again, it was a highly successful conference, where South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service conference team and AFSA worked closely together to produce a first-class event.

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