'This has upset a lot people': Fire chiefs accused of being 'short-sighted' over Black Country flag ban

Firefighters have demanded meetings with station commanders in a bid to overturn a “divisive” and “short-sighted” ban on the Black Country flag being flown at stations.

The Black Country flag
The Black Country flag

Senior officials at West Midlands Fire Service (WMFS) banned the flag from being displayed at stations across the region, claiming it could have links to the slave trade.

The move – which was announced on Black Country Day – has today been described as “inexplicable” by a Labour MP, while union bosses have also hit out, saying they were not informed of the decision.

And furious rank-and-file firefighters have called for meetings with station commanders in a bid to get the ban overturned.

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It has also emerged that WMFS staff have are now being polled on the issue, with one question asking: “In the knowledge of chains historically made in the Black Country having connotations to the slave trade, do you feel we should be displaying the flag from WMFS locations?”

A screenshot of the poll which is believed to have been sent out on Wednesday

One firefighter, who wished to remain anonymous, told the Express & Star: “This is our culture and the flag is flown all over the world.

“We had a message a couple of days ago, sent to Black Country stations, saying flags can’t be flown because they are looking into the meaning of the chain and links with slavery.

“But the flag is flown every year and they have had enough time to check it out.

“This has upset a lot people. The red, white and black flag features chains across its centre, which represent the Black Country’s manufacturing heritage and specifically the chainmakers who worked long hours in poor conditions with little pay.

"It also signifies strong links across the region’s communities.

“There is a short-sightedness about what it actually means.

“OK, we did make chains. But we made chains for a lot of things.

The flag

“When every other authority is waving the flag and celebrating Black Country day – and the fire service is going down that line – it divides people more than bring people together.

"We are waiting to have further meetings with the people above. We have all emailed our station commanders to express our feelings. Hopefully, when it comes out and they realise what it is about, we will get an apology from above.”

A spokesman for the Fire Brigade Union (FBU) said: “The Fire Brigade Union, locally, Tuesday afternoon, whilst the Black Country Day celebrations were taking place, found out a decision asking staff not to fly the flag.

“This was not a decision made by the fire brigade union, or with knowledge of the fire brigade union, and we will now work with management to understand the rationale.”

Labour MP John Spellar, who represents the Warley constituency in Sandwell, said it was “extraordinary” staff were not consulted.

He said: “It is very strange. There was a small storm in a tea cup [when concerns were raised by former Wolverhampton South West Labour MP Eleanor Smith] when everyone agreed they supported the Black Country flag.

"It is extraordinary they claim they are doing it on behalf of the workforce but didn’t consult them.”

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