Statement from Phil Loach, Chief Fire Officer of West Midlands Fire Service,
and Councillor Greg Brackenridge, Chair of West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority.
Last week, West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) asked staff not to fly the Black Country flag at our sites but, instead, to find alternative ways of marking Black Country Day.
In our statements to media outlets we explained that we were seeking to form a fully rounded view of the flag’s chain imagery and questions it raises in the context of slavery.
It has never been in question that the flag’s design – created by Gracie Sheppard when she was a schoolgirl – was honestly conceived as a celebration of all that is positive about the Black Country’s heritage. Many people, predominantly from the area, have clear pride in the emblem.
However, for some people, the flag’s chain imagery is a reminder of links between Black Country industry and slavery. This is all the more relevant for our service, given the support of WMFS and West Midlands Fire and Rescue Authority (WMFRA) for the global Black Lives Matter movement, which resonates directly and personally with many of our staff.
Our association with Black Country Day has involved various activities over many years. It is an important association, not least because of the employment we provide in the area and services which make the Black Country and the entire West Midlands safer, stronger and healthier.
We have now given detailed consideration to the issues raised, gathering views and information from within the service and a range of external sources.
WMFS and WMFRA will support the continued use of the flag throughout celebrations of the Black Country’s rich heritage, in which many of staff and our communities have a clear and unquestionable pride.