Traditional conceptions refrained women from fighting fire and developed a theory that men should be the ones handling the job. But, the roles have transformed with the passage of time and the entrance of women in this and other mainstream businesses.
The prohibition on the entrance of women into firefighting business was later removed in 1964, after the end of Civil Rights Act. This was not an easy way out as there were multiple issues involved, ranging from behavior of male colleagues, outcaste status at the office and ill equipped machineries. Although these many challenges outlined the working conditions for women even in the starting days of bucket brigades, they have been able to serve as loyal employees.
The Job description for all firefighters including men and women is almost the same. The first process for recruitment into the industry is the aptitude exam in written form, which is followed by the test of physical fitness. To complete the process of recruitment, many other assessments are done including a face-to-face interview to ensure that suitable candidate is selected for the role. The physical fitness is almost a prerequisite for the recruitment process because the job requires a lot of strength. That is why physical aptitude tests comprise a crucial portion of the whole selection process. The vitality of being physically fit for the designed job is very important. Therefore, candidates must fruitfully pass through test of physical fitness grounded on the task of physical nature that the firefighters are supposed to embark on during the time of accomplishing their assumed duties (Dfes.wa.gov.au).
Rescue and firefighting service career is of diverse and dynamic nature. It offers many choices regarding the path to follow, once the training is complete. There are countless chances for promotion and role diversification once the five year long compulsory program at Firefighter Development Program is complete.
The firefighters’ roles, whether male or female, can be summarized as:
- Emergency services and immediate response in case of incidents
- Protection of public safety and prevention of hazards
- Readiness maintenance
- Supporting the firefighters who join voluntarily and training them
- The promotion of local business and general community by organizing trainings and education programs
- Operation of equipments related to communications
The role of women in firefighting industry has not been addressed before the 1990s as there were no female recruits in the industry before that time. It was not until 1990 that Urbana Illinois decided to hire its first woman firefighter (Pbs.org).
We may discuss some of the stories of women firefighters to understand the evolution and the challenges that women have faced in the evolution process. The first name that comes into mind is Molly. She had a name in history by acting brave and more “man” than other men which were present around the scene by saving the fire that occurred in a blizzard in the year 1818. While many of the men decided to go away as the Company alarm went off, Molly acted brave and acted her heart out.
Marina Betts is another woman who comes into the scene when we talk about historic woman firefighter. She was summoned as the “recruiting sergeant” and was small with a height of just 5 ft. and 2 inches. She was the most active member as soon as a fire broke out, ensuring that adequate people joined in the troop to safeguard people. After years of serving in the bucket brigade, people commented that she was more effective than half a dozen captains when it came to efficiency in securing workers
Lillie is another name that has been able to write its name in history. She was a social and cooperative lady besides being the richest heiresses in the Bay City. The story goes back to when Lillie was only 15 years old and helped one group of firefighters in tackling a fire on her way to school. From then on, she was made the honorary member at the fire service and she retired from the service after she got married.
The next person to be discussed is Amy Richardson; first female firefighter in Urbana, Illinois. She was only 23 when she was first recruited as the woman firefighter on the Urbana Fire Department. The competency that she possessed at that time were a certificate as level 3 firefighter, which is two levels above beginning grade. She also had the expertise in the form of a certificate for emergency medical techniques and emergency rescue techniques.
As the story of these women progressed, the support from male counterparts was still a far outcry. There was rudeness and abusiveness in their attitude towards female firefighters. Practical jokes were passed they were also assaulted sexually. Men even went to the extent of ceasing communication with women colleagues as they felt that they were not capable of being there. There was a lot of pressure but there is always a breakthrough and that came in the form of some women, who revolutionized the industry with their perseverance and dedication.
Nancy Ducey is another woman who went through these similar problems and still came out as a winner. Currently, she works as an instructor at the Illinois Fire Service Institute. She acts as a coach and has also assisted in preparation of some of the test questions to become a fire fighter. She is an inspirational figure because she did not lose her patience and courage despite continued problems in the field. Men thought that she was not supposed to be there but she defied all laws and emerged as equally capable, even not more than men.
All of these women stories in the past prove that women are brave enough to enter the occupation and capable enough to sustain in the industry for so many years. They have proven that the capability of women in fighting fires is equally high compared to men, although enough obstacles have been paved in their path.
The Present Times:
The present times have been changing and revolving with more and more women entering the business. In 2005, it was reported by Women in the Fire Service that there were something like 6,160 women firefighters (as career) in the United States. There are now more than 28 fire departments where women serve as the top-level chief (Usd116.org).
With globalization, change has become more rapid and the world is shifting. This profession has also shifted from the domain that was restricted to men. Like the penetration of women into other businesses, fire fighting is also serving as an inroad for women into this unconventional profession. There are certain characteristics that make up a good firefighter and such qualities can be acquired not just by men, but women of all castes and ages as well (Mail Online). The opportunities that are portrayed in the fire fighting industry as a whole can be summarized as:
- There have been changing perceptions in the common belief that firefighting is an occupation restricted to men.
- The recruitment process has been a little loose to facilitate the entry of more number of women into the field so that the workforce becomes more diverse and inclusive.
- Growing interests of women to enter industries as the fire and service industry and the growing skills of women regarding the same.
- More automated systems and development intellectual and other abilities in the fire industry, rather than requirements of physical abilities.
The main motive of reducing the tight policy in fire fighter selection is to allow more number of women and lesser storing men into the industry. The ease in the business is in the test known as “ladder lifting”. All new recruits must go through this test; however the level of difficulty has been made easier. Potential firefighters, before the amendment had to extend a ladder of 100kg value by themselves in 20 seconds, for qualification to the next round. After the amendment, they are required to lift only 30 kg of total value over their head.
Another change in the test is the scrapping of strenuous run, which included the completion of increasing fast sprints known as beep test. The challenge was to carry 12 stone people across 100 yards in a time less than one minute. The changes have brought positive reforms as the number of female applicants in the industry has increased drastically. The criticism of this process does, however, exist, arguing that obese recruits can now be enrolled into the business, which was once renowned for the member fitness. But the counter attack comes in terms of comments which follow that the previous tests were discriminatory against women.
The possibilities in this sector exist in the form of new provisions and reforms that are being brought into the sector. The new century has bought with it the concepts if equity and equality, leading to even better women leaders in the fire fighting front. Like the concept about female astronauts has been changed by many revolutionary women, the responsibility to do the same has fallen into the shoulders of new generation female workers.
Since this is definitely an out of track and highly unconventional profession for women, there are bound to be many challenges, in the form of small office level problems to higher industry related conflicts (Bindel, Julie). The major problems that women in the firefighting filed face can be summarized as:
- Prejudice and harassment from seniors and also male counterparts.
- Small population of female professionals in the field making it difficult to raise their voices and voice their opinions.
- Lack of diverse workforce.
- Barriers to entry in terms of strength and perceived discrimination
Comments, frequent complaints and harassments from male counterparts and no proper place for changing and other feminine activities is a common problem for almost all females who have joined the firefighting industry. All these discriminations and a life put at risk; female firefighters have a lot to tackle. Women firefighters take about 4% of total share of UK’s firefighting force, which is an increase from the same figure in 2006. This still does very less to dispel the common belief that women are more about rescuing kittens from trees than people from burning buildings. Some incidents where women firefighters have been injured in an attempt to save a fire further fuel the situation with issues rising about the competency of women as firefighters. But the matter of fact that many argue is that, the standards for serving in the fire industry is high and women firefighters are in no way less competent.
The discrimination seems to be baseless as females perform all those tasks that are supposed to be excelled by males. Such activities involve operation of the water hoses, ladder scaling and taking people to safety from tall and small burning buildings. According to an audit commission report published in 2008, there is a gap in the places for women and ethnic minorities in the fire service. The report claims that this lack of workforce diversity highly decreases the service’s reach capabilities when it comes to different communities.
Even the name with which the people in the profession are summoned is a hint of discrimination. “Fireman” is a common term for all firefighters but the major challenge here is bringing in new and young girls into the profession as the term itself excluded the participation of women in this field (Streetdirectory.com). There are a lot of issues where women face challenges and the situation needs to be amended. These issues relate to a proper return-to-work practices, family friendly provisions and maternity facilities, including equal pay. The issue of pensions and the current attack of Government on public sector may make the tackling of these issues seem difficult, but the public support is high and there may be hopes of a change in the future horizon.
Officials in the fire department believe that the small minority of female firefighters is still an issue due to which it is difficult for the infrastructures to change and there are still abundant cases of appalling isolations. There are a lot of challenged to cope. The major challenge is changing the perception that women are second to men when it comes to activities like fire fighting.
Changes in the history of women firefighting is more of a reform than a disturbance. Women are now equipped with more rights in multiple fields and firefighting business is not an exception. In the past 20 years, the field of fire and services has undergone significant changes and the changing roles of women have been an added feather to the cap.
Rights and duties have been compared many a times to two sides of a coin. Women, who have attained rights over the years, as they have passed to hierarchies in the fire industry, have also seen an important rise in the responsibilities that they carry out. Many women who have gone through much of discrimination and assault, have reached the top level positions and so they have played important roles in shaping policies that prevent women from any form of harassment. The policies relate to various aspects of the industry, ranging from equal pay, provisions that are feminine in nature, law of equity and equality among others. The decreasing incidents of injustice towards women in the industry are also acting as an incentive to attract new female firefighters.
The bottom line is that the role of female firefighters is changing, which is favorable in the sense that they bring diversity and harmony into the industry. It also gives women a chance to push their limits and also to prove that there is nothing such as an unconventional occupation. This step could help other women enter into other professions that are considered male restricted.
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Dfes.wa.gov.au,. 'Female Firefighter Recruitment'. N.p., 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.
Mail Online,. 'Fire Brigade Relaxes Strength And Fitness Test To Make Entry Easier For Women'. N.p., 2011. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.
Pbs.org,. 'Independent Lens . TAKING THE HEAT . Timeline: A History Of Women Firefighters | PBS'. N.p., 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.
Streetdirectory.com,. 'Becoming A Firefighter : Women Firefighter & Female Firefighters'. N.p., 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.
Usd116.org,. 'THE HISTORY OF WOMEN FIREFIGHTERS'. N.p., 2014. Web. 7 Nov. 2014.