Women Firefighters, a Burning Issue

After a fire has started or an accident has occurred, education, prevention, and engineering have already
failed. At this stage it is now time to look for the firefighter to minimize further damage and save lives.
Americans are careless about fire as a personal threat. Many people believe that fire "only happens to the
other guy," and that the fire department will take care of it. (Cote 1-11) This same false sense of safety has
led society to allow the physical statures required to be a firefighter to be compromised so that more
females may participate. Physical strength is required to perform many of the tasks firefighters encounter
therefore the issue of physical agility cannot be ignored during personnel selection.
The fire service must maintain a high physical readiness in order to perform the tasks required, therefore
the physical requirements of new employees should not be compromised or lowered in any way simply to
provide equal rights for women. Women, as with men, who can not pass the strenuous physical testing do
not belong in the fire service for they endanger, not only their life, but that of fellow firefighters and
compromise the ability to successfully rescue a civilian victim. In todayís society, discrimination will not
be tolerated and there are many social watchdogs, with good intent, that patrol society and prosecute those
institutions that do not conform. Those who continue to, or are perceived as, discriminating find themselves
being pressured into conforming to standards even if the result produces a service that may be less than
optimal. This pressured or forced acceptance policy is the position the fire service now finds itself dealing
with.
Those who say the fire service is discriminatory do not understand the physical demands that are placed
upon the people who choose to dedicate there lives to it. The difference in strength between boys and girls
before puberty is inconsequential, but after puberty, it becomes significant: the average man can generate
30% to 50% more force than the average woman. The difference is greatest in upper body strength and
least for leg strength. When comparisons are made for the total amount of force that the muscles can
generate, on average, men can produce more force than women for all muscle groups tested. Men are 50%
stronger than women in upper body strength and 30% stronger in lower body strength. These values persist
regardless of the method used to measure strength. (Anspaugh et al. 105)
Firefighting is and probably always will be a physically demanding occupation. It is unrealistic to think that
all task loads can be reduced or simplified, yet it makes even less sense to knowingly contribute to their
difficulty. "[H]iring smaller people, but then purchasing larger equipment, might literally spec a firefighter
out of a job, or at least his or her ability to perform it satisfactorily." (Abraham et al. 180) Therefore by
careful selection of equipment and training on proper use and lifting techniques the physical demands of
the job can be minimized but when time is crucial and the job needs to be done now, physical strength
above that of the average person will always contribute to achieving the goal.
In the 1970s and early 80s when departments faced the possibility of hiring incompetent women applicants
over more qualified individuals due to new regulations, many departments toughened their entry-level
standards or developed physical tests that were not job related and were above most womenís physical
ability. (Armstrong et al. 27) It is true that during this period, when women first appeared in the fire service
in numbers, male firefighters felt animosity towards and resented females in their department simply due to
their presents but this era and those ill feelings have past.
Can a woman pull her partner out of a burning building? Can a woman drag a hose line into a house and
put the fire out and can she perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation for 30 minutes if an ambulance is
delayed? These are the life and death situations that face firefighters. It does not matter if these events only
rarely occur but, regardless of gender, when they do occur and the firefighter needs to have the strength and
endurance to react appropriately. One senior