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Women Are Beginning to Take More Leadership Roles in the Fire Service

women in firefighting

Since the beginning of the women’s rights movement in 20th century America, women have taken on leadership roles all across the nation. From corporate executives to politicians, females have gained authoritative positions within numerous career paths. However, in some male-dominated industries, women have struggled to reach these leadership roles. One such industry is the fire service.     

There is no doubt that fire suppression is a male-dominated career. Statistics show that women make up 39 percent of the Forest Service’s workforce, but hold just 11 percent of permanent wildfire jobs. In other agencies that fight fire such as the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service—these figures are as low as 6 percent.  In the atmosphere of structure firefighting, the acceptance rate for women is not much different.  Fewer than 4 percent of U.S. firefighters are women and what’s more, 51 percent of paid fire departments have never hired a female firefighter.  

The question of what has caused so few women to enter the fire industry is one that sparks political debate. Some attribute this to the longstanding traditional views of male leaders in the industry, claiming that gender inequality is still prevalent within the fire service. In fact, a Cornell University study was conducted and presented at the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services meeting on April 24, 2008, claiming that women were not being hired due to unequal employment and recruiting practices. Others argue that there are simply far less women than men who have a desire to become firefighters. All political views aside, it is clear the tide is changing. Female firefighters are beginning to take leadership within their departments and organizations.

Women Firefighters at the Helm

During a recent graduation of 52 Los Angeles Fire Department recruits, a woman earned an accolade never before realized by a female in the 149 year history of the department.  Caroline Carpenter of Long Beach became the first woman to earn the honor of being named as the top recruit and class leader for her cohort.  Aside from being named by a group of her peers as the class leader, Carpenter also earned the highest overall combined score in tests that include ladder, hose and academic assessments.  The feelings of inclusion and respect were echoed by those she graduated with.  A fellow recruit Connor Thompson of Huntington Beach said “She proved herself. Females are just as capable as males with this job. She’s a little bit shorter so she had a lot of aspects to overcome as far as ladders. But she made it and overcame those things.”  

This dedication to female inclusion in the firefighting ranks isn’t just a progressive movement of the liberal west; it is also taking place in more conservative rural areas, including Omaha, Nebraska. Recently, assistant fire chief Kathy Bossman became the highest-ranking woman in Omaha Fire Department history.  Initially hired as a firefighter paramedic, Bossman held a wide range of positions within her 20 years in the fire service.  Bossman proved herself by quickly learning the necessary skills to be promoted to captain, battalion chief, and now assistant chief.  Omaha Fire Chief Dan Olsen echoed this success by saying at her pinning ceremony, “Kathy has earned this position. She’s earned the right to be here. She’s earned the right to be in this rank. And she’s earned the right to lead this department.”  

Training Young Women to Become Leading Firefighters

A camp held at the New Hampshire Fire Academy in Concord, N.H. hopes to educate young women aspiring to become leaders in the fire service.  The camp, now in its eleventh year, involves seventeen young women ages ranging from 14-20 who voluntarily give up their midsummer break to decide if being a firefighter is right for them.  Camp Fully Involved provides hands-on experiences for young women interested in pursuing a career in the fire service.  The six-day live-in program is filled with tasks firefighters typically are faced with such as cutting open vehicles in mock crashes and cutting into structures set up to mimic smoke-filled buildings.  Camp Fully Involved is about giving women a glimpse into firefighting and instilling confidence.  “It’s about letting them know that they can do it, that they can do what they want to do,” said Doug Giles, a volunteer instructor and former firefighter who had decades of fire service in Concord. “It’s an outlook they can carry the rest of their life.”

Doing Business with Integrity

Integrity is about doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  At BME, integrity is a part of who we are. Ronald Yanke, BME’s original founder, had a reputation as a kind, humble man whom his employees and neighbors deeply respected. It was said that Yanke went out of his way every day to help others, and that those who knew him would walk through fire for him. Founded on these principles that still resonate with us today, BME strives for honesty and fairness in everything that we do, including our business relationships, our company culture and even our manufacturing process.  For more information regarding our products and custom solutions please contact us by phone at (208) 338-1444.

Sources:

“Firefighting Occupations by Women and Race.” NFPA Statistics – Firefighting Occupations by Women and Race, www.nfpa.org/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/Fire-statistics/The-fire-service/Administration/Firefighting-occupations-by-women-and-race.

http://news.cornell.edu/stories/2008/05/firefighting-has-alarmingly-too-few-women-study-finds

Woods, Wes. “Woman Named LAFD Recruit Class Leader for First Time.” FireRescue1, 5 Jan. 2018, www.firerescue1.com/diversity/articles/372199018-Woman-named-Los-Angeles-Fire-Dept-recruit-class-leader-for-first-time/?NewsletterID=730535&utm_source=iContact&utm_medium=email&utm_content=TopNewsLeft1Title&utm_campaign=FR1Member&cub_id=usr_Cme9EX57DFRCnH7b%2C.

Nohr, Emily. “New Assistant Chief Makes History as Omaha Fire Department’s Highest-Ranking Woman Ever.” Omaha.com, 8 Jan. 2018, www.omaha.com/news/metro/new-assistant-chief-makes-history-as-omaha-fire-department-s/article_5eec36be-37c2-5ec0-b603-9088ee14fd70.html.

HIMSEL, DON. “Summer Intensive Teaches Women to Become Firefighters.” Summer Intensive Teaches Women to Become Firefighters, 24 Jan. 2017, www.usnews.com/news/best-states/new-hampshire/articles/2017-07-24/summer-intensive-teaches-women-to-become-firefighters.

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