Is Fireman Sam sexist?

Is Fireman Sam sexist?

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this question. Once or twice a year, people get all worked up when some fire service or other decides that Fireman Sam Jones should no longer be their mascot because his children’s TV show uses the sexist job title “Fireman” instead of “Firefighter”.

Back in September, Lincolnshire Fire Service made a few headlines after dropping Fireman Sam from its promotional material, but the last major “is Fireman Sam sexist” furore (or should that be fireore?) I can recall occurred in London in March 2019.

The kindling was lit when the London Fire Brigade claimed that girls “think they can’t be firefighters because children’s TV continues to use outdated language”. And the petrol was smeared all over the flame by attention-seeking rent-an-opinion Piers Morgan, who tweeted: “If women are being ‘put off’ joining the fire service because Fireman Sam – A CARTOON CHARACTER – supposedly ‘perpetuates male stereotypes’ then can I politely suggest these women probably don’t have what it takes to fight fires.”

A word from the creator

Pretty soon the show’s creator, David Jones, was involved. “It’s for children, no-one joins the fire service when they watch Fireman Sam. If that was their mentality they wouldn’t be right for the job,” he said in an interview with the BBC that was quoted in the Independent, before adding. “There has been no harm done by Fireman Sam, and I am proud to have created it.”

And then? Well, then people found something else to be offended by and the fire died down, just like it always does.

So where do I stand on the whole “is Fireman Sam sexist issue”? Well, I agree with the London Fire Brigade that the show’s title could do with being updated. I agree with David Jones that the show is for 2-4-year-olds (and their 39-year-old parents), so no harm has been done. And I disagree with anyone who believes that the show’s content is even remotely sexist.

I say this for two reasons. First, as the parent of a Pontypandy-loving preschooler, I have watched every episode from seasons 6-11 multiple times over the last two years. Second, the show includes 11 recurring female characters. And, as you will discover from my below descriptions, all of them kick varying amounts of ass and possess varying degrees of sass.

The fierce females of Pontypandy

Firefighter Penny Morris from Fireman Sam
Firefighter Penny Morris ready for action

1. Penny Morris

Over and above being Pontypandy’s second finest firefighter (behind Sam, obvs), Penny Morris is the seaside town’s expert diver and outdoor sports guru. If she’s not taking children caving or finding treasure at the bottom of the sea, she’s hiking with Helen Flood, attempting to abseil onto the beach or taking on the men in a cheese-chasing challenge.

In the interests of “is Fireman Sam sexist” balance, it’s important to point out that she has had the odd stereotypically girly moment, like when flirting with Ocean Rescue Centre boss Ben or swooning over imaginary Hollywood heartthrob Ryan McChin. However, when all is said and done, viewers are far more likely to see her fighting fires than frosting cupcakes.
Fierce rating: 8

2. Mandy Flood

Mandy’s adventures don’t often end well. But boy, sorry girl, does she have a lot of adventures. Like? Like the time she tried to climb Pontypandy mountain. The time she went on her first solo sea voyage (her mast broke and she fixed it using driftwood). And the time she led an intrepid flock of boyband lovers on a death-defying pilgrimage towards Newtown. And that’s before I even get on to the episode where she went AWOL in a cave while chasing a bat or the occasion she and Norman drifted out to sea on a bouncy castle. You go, girl.
Fierce rating: 9

3. Sarah Jones

Sarah and James Jones are twins. One of them is meek, whiny and scared of everything. And the other is called Sarah. It would be a stretch to describe Fireman Sam‘s niece as the type of character who is going to empower female preschoolers. But her highlights’ reel does include having a football party for her birthday, stealing a rescue boat and showing Norman that girls can be just as good pirate captains as boys.
Fierce rating: 4

4. Hannah Sparkes

Is the daughter of the town’s mechanic/mad inventor going to let the fact she is in a wheelchair stop her from doing stuff? Absolutely not. Along with besting Ben the Ocean Rescue Centre boss in a kayak race to the Northern buoy and back, she is a mean swimmer and a brilliant footballer.
Fierce rating: 9

5. Helen Flood

The town nurse has the grave misfortune of being married to inept local handyman Mike Flood. She doesn’t feature in the show too often, but when she is either giving her hubby a well-deserved dressing down, instructing a firefighter to go home or calmly dealing with a minor injury.
Fierce rating: 6

6. Lizzie Sparkes

The town vet is another bit-part character. When she does make the cut, she’s usually doing something to prove that This Vet Can. For example, rescuing animals from swamps or rooftops, dropping the tissue at the start the Pontypandy go-kart cup and starring in the town’s big football match.
Fierce rating: 6

7. Bronwyn Jones

With a husband who is a moderately successful fisherman and twins who take a bit of looking after, it would be easy for Fireman Sam’s producers to go a bit sexist and make Bronwyn’s character a dutiful stay at home mum. So that’s exactly what they’ve done. Just kidding. In addition to running the town’s Whole Fish Café, Bronwyn is town’s leading (and possibly only) synchronised swimming coach and a big believer in the power of meditation.
Fierce rating: 5

8. Dilys Price

Sure, at times the script requires Dilys plays the helpless female (usually when trying escape an animal that has invaded her store or attempting to woo Trevor). But she’s also a single mum, who is managing to combine running a small business with bringing up the most challenging of ginger-haired reprobates (Norman). Oh, and she is one half of the team that triumphed in the latest edition of Pontypandy’s three-legged race. Memorably combining with Fireman Sam to sprint to the line and secure a surprise victory.
Fierce rating: 7

9. Bella Lasagne

In the real world, Italian restaurant chains are shutting down here, there and everywhere. In the fictional world, Bella Lasagne’s Italian restaurant is going from strength to strength, with a permanent site in Newtown and pop-ups, um, popping up at every social event in Pontypandy. I’m not sure that her name is real. But I do believe in her business acumen and her right foot. The volley she scored in Fiery Football was out of this world.
Fierce rating: 7

10. Mrs Chen

What can I say about Pontypandy’s schoolteacher? Oh, I know. She manages to combine being a single mother to a toddler with keeping Norman Price in check. And if that’s not fierce enough for you? Then I’ll tell you a story about the time she pressed the accelerator on Trevor’s bus so hard it got stuck down, sending her class on a wild ride around the town with her in the driver’s seat. “Mrs Chen, the possibility of successfully navigating a sheep field is approximately, ahhhh,” screamed James as the bus soared over a river. “Never tell me the odds,” replied Mrs Chen, after successfully nailing the landing.
Fierce rating: 7

11. Ellie Phillips

Firefighter Ellie Phillips is Pontypandy’s newest female character. She hasn’t appeared too often, but early signs suggests that she is going to fit in well with her sassy contemporaries. I say this, because she’s already shown an interest in climbing with Penny, taken charge of the Pontypandy Pioneers and helped the town fight off a hurricane.
Fierce rating: 5

And that’s it. Wow, I know a lot about Fireman Sam. If you can think of any way to monetise this, please let me know.

Until next time…

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