The concept of a female firefighter isn’t as uncommon as it once was, and more and more women are considering this challenging and rewarding career option.
Currently women only account for around 4% of the fire service workforce.
So why is this – what are the issues that are preventing women from applying for or remaining in this career path?
It seems like issues like gender discrimination and stereotyping should be outdated in these diverse and modern times. Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
Because the role of a firefighter is traditionally viewed as a men’s vocation, there are many who question the motives behind a woman wishing to follow this career.
We’re often suspicious of things that deviate from what we consider ‘normal’, and difficulties in understanding the reasons behind someone choosing a different path can lead to a reaction of negativity.
This isn’t a thought pattern unique to the public – negative remarks have also been reported from colleagues.
Female firefighters are expected to undertake exactly the same responsibilities as their male counterparts.
However there have been statements from females in the fire service that their gender brings with it barriers to advancement or promotion.
There also seems to be the worry that these women feel the need to work increasingly harder and check themselves constantly, as any error or misunderstanding will be picked up on and dealt with harshly.
The job is a physically strenuous one, and doubts have been expressed as to whether there are limitations as to what women can cope with physically in this area – due to differences from men in size, strength and physiological makeup.
Some members of the public feel that being attended to by a male firefighter in an emergency is ‘safer’ because of these perceived differences – but any female firefighter would argue that there’s absolutely no reason why a female applicant shouldn’t be able to achieve the required fitness standard.
Women have also been accused of being too ‘emotional’ to perform the role, linking to issues with pregnancy and women’s health issues such as the menopause. There have been reports of cases of women having to fight for their access to restricted duties whilst pregnant, or for rights like maternity leave.
One of the main issues angering women firefighters is that the don’t feel that they are being taken seriously in the workplace – and from this stems more problems with reports of harassment and bullying, and being accused of not having a sense of humour or told ‘it’s only banter’ when objections are made.
It seems there is a sense of isolation among many female firefighters, and there has been a high number of these women leaving a job that they love due to what the feel is a negative and at times unbearable work environment.
However not all of their colleagues or service users hold as adverse opinions as are being reported.
Female firefighters have been praised immensely for their ‘people ‘ skills in an evolving and changing fire service where community outreach and public education are gaining in importance – especially in the diverse society of today.
Women have been praised for bribing a new dimension to this side of the job, for improving communication with the public and for not being afraid to ask for advice or help when needed.
But still, the negative opinions do exist, and there are some who are not afraid to share them.
And the problem with views like these is the potential for them to prevent women from applying to the fire service, and essentially giving up their dreams on a career they feel may be the perfect choice and vocation for them.