UK's first hijab-wearing firefighter wants fire brigade to 'represent the community we serve'

Marie Claire Dorking
·6 min read

Watch: Woman becomes UK's first hijab-wearing firefighter

A woman has opened up about breaking down stereotypes to become the first operational hijab-wearing firefighter in the UK.

Uroosa Arshid, 27, from Aspley, Nottinghamshire, first knew she wanted to become a firefighter when she was a little girl and firefighters visited her school to do a fire safety talk.

“I remember looking up to them and thinking this is incredible,” she tells Yahoo UK. 

“They’re like real-life superheroes, and I knew from then that's what I wanted to do.”

But when she started looking into the training. Arshid realised there would be a few hurdles to overcome before she could realise her firefighting dreams. 

"The most obvious and common question is always about the hijab," she says. 

"We had to understand what it was that I needed to do to be safe and still be able to practice my faith at the same time.

"Through my training we had to see what kind of regulations we needed to match up with and how safe it needed to be. 

"So we tried quite a few different types of hijab, and I even made one of my own, to see how it needed to function and how it needed to be practical and safe. 

"But then as time went on, we realised that actually it wasn't really important what material it was made out of, as long as it was practical and safe."

Read more: Hospital trust introduces disposable hijabs for Muslim doctors

Uroosa Arshid became the UK's first operational hijab-wearing firefighter. (Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service)
Uroosa Arshid is the UK's first operational hijab-wearing firefighter. (Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service)

Arshid has been working with her team to create a uniform hijab and is currently trying out different styles.

She is pictured below wearing a Nike Pro Hijab while training. The sports hijab is a pull-on design with a long back designed to keep it in place.

Arshid is also able to combine other aspects of her faith with being a firefighter.

"I've actually found it really easy to practise my faith while being a firefighter and everything that's involved," she says.  

"As a Muslim I try to pray five times a day, but the compulsory part of the prayer is only about five minutes long. So, if I have a few minutes I shoot off and do my prayer. 

"If there's something urgent that needs doing, I will of course do that first, but as long as there's flexibility on both parts from my watch and the service, as well as myself, we can work through it."

Read more: Hindu-Muslim couple praised for 'breaking stereotypes'

While she has received incredible support from her friends and family, as well as her colleagues at West Bridgford Fire Station, where she has worked since 2019, Arshid says there has been some negativity in the community and questions raised about her ability to do the job.

"It's mainly about what the job involves and whether I'm actually capable of doing it, as well as being a Muslim woman," she says. 

"It's just about dispelling those rumours and uncertainties to explain that it is possible."

Uroosa Arshid trains with her colleagues. (Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service)
Uroosa Arshid trains with her colleagues. (Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service)

Arshid says she often sees some raised eyebrows when she arrives at a job with her watch.  

"You get all sorts of comments," she says. 

"Partly because I'm a female and partly because of my faith and I wear hijab, but I do definitely get quite a few strange looks. 

"When I say that I'm from the fire service I think some people probably think I'm some kind of a fraud coming to the door because they don't quite believe me. 

"But when they see the big red truck and all my team around me it kind of drills it in a little bit."

Arshid's colleagues say that while other services have staff who wear hijabs in their fire protection team (those who inspect buildings for safety) and in control rooms, they don't know of anyone else who wears a hijab while attending incidents.  

Arshid says finding out she was the first operational hijab-wearing firefighter was surprising, but also a source of pride. 

"I didn't really give it much thought at first, but they couldn't seem to find any other operational hijab-wearing firefighters, so in the end we realised I must be the first," she said. 

"It's incredible that we still even have firsts in this day and age, you'd think that we're past all of that, but I do feel proud that I have done that and I have broken down a barrier for other people.

"That's the main thing. Now that someone has done it, it opens that pathway for more people to also do it and know that it is possible."

Read more: Nike to launch modest swimwear range

Arshid hopes to inspire other hijab-wearing women to follow their career dreams. (Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service)
Uroosa Arshid hopes to inspire other hijab-wearing women to follow their career dreams. (Nottinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service)

She hopes her story might inspire other Muslim women to follow their career dreams, no matter what they might be. 

"There is a stereotype that women who wear hijab are generally quite oppressed or controlled or don't have much freedom, and it's quite the opposite," she says. 

"In Islam we're very liberated. We're free to do a lot of things, as long as you maintain your modesty.

"I would like people to understand and realise that there's so much available and achievable out there for you, if that's what your dream is. 

"Don't let things like the colour of your skin, or your gender, or your faith be a barrier."

In terms of advice for those who would like to follow in her footsteps, Arshid says to go for it. 

"Put the work and effort in and just push through, because it will be worth it in the end," she says. 

"It's the best feeling to know that you've achieved something that you've always wanted to do." 

In the future, Arshid hopes to see not only more women in the fire service, but more women of faith who wear a hijab.

"I want it to be diverse," she says. "I want it to represent the community that we serve. 

"If the community that we served was simply white and male, then sure that that would be representative, but since we are such a diverse community, then our service should represent that. 

"I want to see that we're not a minority any more, we're just normal people that want to do the job that we love." 

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