OXFORDSHIRE has just three firefighters who are from ethnic minorities, a lack of diversity dismissed by the government as ‘unacceptable’.

Its Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer Simon Furlong took over in April and said his priority was to make it more diverse.

But only 0.6 per cent of 530 operational firefighters are from black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds, down from three per cent earlier this year. That falls short of representing Oxfordshire’s eight per cent BAME population.

The service has 32 women firefighters, which means 94 per cent of the service are men.

Meeting Oxfordshire councillors, Mr Furlong said he was working to increase the service’s diversity and that doing so will improve the work it does.

He said: “What we’ve got to understand is the benefit of what people add to the service - and I’m not just talking about women, I’m talking about BAME groups as well.

“It’s massive to understand about communities when we’re dealing with vulnerable women, domestic abuse and crime, we need to understand that.

“I cannot tell you as a white male how it feels to be affected by some of that.”

He told a meeting of Oxfordshire County Council’s scrutiny committee last month: “It is about the skills and the attributes that people bring.”

The Home Office told the Oxford Mail that the white, male dominated force needs to change.

A Home Office spokesman said: “The lack of diversity in the fire service is unacceptable. Fire services should aim to represent the communities they serve.

“Our expectation is that services must now step up and act in order to improve diversity. They have a golden opportunity to do this given that the majority are due to recruit in the coming years and we will work with them to do so.”

Of the service’s support staff, 59 of 107 people are women, which means they make up the majority of people in that group at 55.1 per cent.

But again, black and ethnic minority people are underrepresented, with six people being from those backgrounds.

A Fire Brigades Union spokesman said: “It is important that fire services reflect the communities they serve. When the Conservative-led government came to power in 2010 one of their first acts was to downgrade the equality agenda. This coupled with a general lack of recruitment, because of austerity, has meant fire services are not as diverse as they should be.

“When fire services begin recruitment programmes, they must do all they can to increase applications from under-represented groups.”

The fire service employed six BAME people in 2007 and 17 in 2009. It employed 28 women in 2007 and 31 in 2009.