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Oxford United FC set up training camp at Didcot Fire Station

23 December 2021

DIDCOT FIRE Station replaced Oxford United FC’s training ground on Wednesday 15 December when players from the League One club teamed up with local firefighters for a series of physical agility tests.

Their Premier League counterparts might be used to training breaks in exotic parts of the world, but those players attending from the Kassam Stadium-based team had very good reasons for staying local. The purpose of the day was to gain an understanding of the physical requirements of becoming a firefighter, with the tests focused on teamwork and communication. Very similar, then, to those core skills needed in professional football.

The football club and the county’s Fire and Rescue Service are building on their community partnership, launched last month (and as reported by Fire Safety Matters) to promote anti-discrimination, equality, diversity and inclusion.

Oxford United FC players Jon Walker, Dan Harris, George Franklin, Owen Giles, Erion Zabelli, Ibby Sankoh, Joshua Johnson, Gatlin O’Dankor, Enrique Tianua, Amari Davis-Stephenson and Matt Jarvis tested their strength and dexterity by attempting a number of challenges including a ladder lift (this test simulates the individual physical demands of lifting the head of a 13.5 metre ladder back on top of a fire appliance), carrying firefighting equipment and also a casualty ‘drag’ evacuation test (which requires the candidate to walk backwards while guided by a safety officer and drag a 55kg dummy around three sides of a square).

Number of initiatives

Rob MacDougall, Oxfordshire County Council Fire and Rescue Service’s chief fire officer, commented: “This was the first of a number of initiatives planned for the coming months. We’re going to be working closely with Oxford United FC to bring firefighters and footballers together, understand each other’s role and discuss the benefits of tolerance, showing how diverse communities can thrive and adopt a strong stance against discrimination.”

MacDougall added: “There will be different activities and live discussions between footballers and firefighters, jointly promoting our respective campaigns. That’s our own ‘Fire Doesn’t Discriminate and Neither Do We’ campaign and Oxford United FC’s ongoing support for the football community’s ‘Kick It Out’ campaign.

Karl Robinson, Oxford United FC’s manager, stated: “It's a fantastic initiative and we’re proud to be working with the Fire and Rescue Service. There are lots of similarities between what we do and how the Fire and Rescue Service operates, but the central one for me is that everyone’s welcome. There are some exciting ideas for us to work together on developing and I look forward to being part of that process in the coming months.”

Equality and diversity

Rob MacDougall has already recorded an interview for Oxford United’s YouTube channel sharing his personal passion for equality, diversity and a ‘no tolerance’ attitude towards discrimination. That attitude is reflected in Oxfordshire County Council’s Fire and Rescue Service’s ongoing recruitment campaign.

MacDougall explained: “If you want a rewarding career as part of your local firefighting team, we want to hear from you. We aim to become an employer of choice in parts of our community where we are currently underrepresented, whether this is in terms of gender, age, race, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Further, he observed: “We want to attract people who will bring a diversity of life experience and an understanding of the many different cultures, communities and religions that make Oxfordshire such a vibrant and diverse place in which to live.”