Posts Tagged women in the fire service

Women in the fire service

Excerpts from the

There are very few workplaces left in the United States where women have not gained entry. But in one of the last places where a virtual male monopoly endures, it’s still possible in 2018 for departments to hire their first female firefighters. Such is the case in Joliet, which announced this month it took on its first female recruit in its 165-year history. Though many departments started hiring women decades ago, some still have only one woman firefighter and some have none.

Nationwide, only about 4 percent of firefighters are women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, even as that figure has risen to about 14 percent in police work and the military. Even traditionally male occupations like farming and construction management have higher percentages of women than firefighting.

Attitudes toward women in the profession have generally improved, but some still face horror stories. In Fairfax County, Va., Firefighter Nicole Mittendorff took her life in 2016 after being harassed about her work online. The department appointed a woman to address gender problems, but she resigned this year, according to local reports, saying no one was heeding her suggestions.

This year, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the city of Houston over claims that two female firefighters were victims of sexual harassment that included male co-workers urinating in their dormitory, writing sexist messages on the walls and deactivating speakers so the women couldn’t respond to emergency calls.

The Chicago Fire Department has been the subject of several lawsuits in recent decades alleging race and sex discrimination in its hiring practices. For years, the department required firefighters and paramedics to pass physical tests that were challenged in court as discriminatory against women, before the city agreed to replace the tests. Now, like many departments, the city uses the Candidate Physical Ability Test meant to better simulate the requirements of the job, such as climbing stairs, raising ladders, dragging hoses, carrying equipment, swinging axes and conducting searches.

Researchers from Drexel University in Philadelphia studied the experiences of 30 female firefighters and published their findings in September in the Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health. A majority of the women said they faced a double standard, especially for any who were the first female to join a particular department. Several participants also described cases of discrimination or harassment; some said they felt a responsibility to other female firefighters to stay on the job. But the research also found that male firefighters often viewed their female colleagues as more skilled at de-escalating tense situations, calming emergency medical patients and assessing on-the-job risks.

thanks Dan


Women in the CFD

Excerpts from the Chicago SunTimes:

With a bachelor’s in biology … Loné Williams is helping blaze a trail with the Chicago Fire Department, where women account for just 139 of the city’s roughly 4,100 firefighters — 3.4 percent. Nationally, the figure is 5.7 percent, according to the Labor Department. [She’s] a firefighter EMT … on the job about nine months.  She hasn’t forgotten her first time entering a burning house, adrenaline pumping: “It seemed like I was in a movie.” After the fire was out, Williams, who has a 4-year-old son, remembers thinking: “ ‘Did I just go in to that burning building with no problem?’ The guys said I didn’t hesitate.

“I love my career,” says Williams, who taught science at Rickover Junior High School in Sauk Village, “ . . . no matter how dangerous it is.” What drives her, she says, is “to help people and be there when people are going through some of the worst things you can possibly go through.”

Starting pay for firefighters in Chicago is about $54,000 a year, and top scale is $102,750 after 30 years with the department.

Requirements include passing a physical ability test — while wearing a 50-pound vest. Designed to mimic the challenges firefighters face, it includes a three-minute stair climb while loaded with an extra 25 pounds; dragging a 200-foot hose line; using a sledgehammer to simulate making a forcible building entry; crawling through a tunnel maze of obstacles with dead ends; and dragging a 165-pound mannequin 35 feet.

Catherine “Cat” Renar, 55, is in her 15th year with the department, promoted last year to engineer, meaning her duties include driving an engine. A midlife crisis led her to firefighting after 10 years in marketing and advertising.  “I was fortunate to have some awesome chiefs,” Renar says. “They impressed upon us the importance of heart, a passion for what we do that supersedes brute strength. . . . And mental strength and tenacity are essential.”

The work hours — 24 hours on, then 48 off — appealed to Janine Wade-Johnson, 51. “We work about 88 days a year,” says Johnson, whose daughters were 4 and 13 when she started. “For raising my family, my girls, that was really good.”

When Wade-Johnson entered the academy two decades ago, she was one of only three women in a class of 120. “I wasn’t caring if anyone liked me. My ultimate goal was my girls — a better way of living for them.” The work environment sometimes requires a thick skin, according to Wade-Johnson.

“Don’t let people push your buttons,” she says. “Some people accept you, and some won’t. Have a positive mind. Don’t come on the job thinking somebody owes you.”

There are still barriers for women, says Candice McDonald, a board member with the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Service. “Some departments are not as accepting of women”.

Attorney Marni Willenson represented women in two class-action lawsuits that accused the Chicago department of discriminating against women with the physical performance test used in firefighter selection. One case was settled in 2013. The other awaits final approval. As a result of those suits, the city replaced its old physical test with one used by fire departments across the country that more closely approximates firefighters’ duties.

Women who were a part of the suits and still met the department’s age requirements were allowed to reapply. Twenty-nine from the first settlement are now firefighters. Three more are completing training. About 40 from the second settlement are doing the physical training and testing required before entering the academy.

thanks Dan

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CFD and women settle lawsuit

This is from an article in the Chicago Tribune about a lawsuit settlement between the Chicago Fire Department and more than 100 women:

About 138 women who were denied jobs with the Chicago Fire Department following a test seven years ago will have a chance to reapply to be a firefighter on Monday after reaching an agreement with the city in a federal class-action lawsuit.

The women were part of a group of 187 who had passed the written test in 2006 but were later denied jobs because they failed the department’s physical abilities test. Close to 50 of the original applicants no longer meet the eligibility requirements.

In 2011, Samantha Vasich, one of the rejected female candidates, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Chicago, alleging the test was unfair to women because it placed too much emphasis on strength rather than firefighting skills.

Last month, the city agreed to use the Candidate Physical Ability Test, a more accurate test developed by the International Association of Firefighters, to assess the rejected women candidates for the next two firefighter classes, said Marni Willenson, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs.

“It’s a vast improvement over what was there,” Willenson said.

Under the new agreement, women who were denied jobs and who pass the new test will be given first priority.

Those who are not granted jobs, no longer want to apply or are ineligible will share about $2 million in damages, said Willenson.

The entire article is HERE.

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New fire station being built in Joliet

The Joliet Fire Department is in the construction phase of a new station for Station 3.

Joliet Fire Station 3

Joliet Fire Station 3 at 319 Grove Road will be replaced when the new building is completed. Karl Klotz photo

The $1.6 million station  — $1.1 million of which is from a federal grant – broke ground this winter on Laraway Road. When completed, it will replace the station at 319 Grove St.

The article is written around the fact that there are no women currently on the job in Joliet and that the new station will be one of three in the city with separate facilities to accommodate women on the job,

Joliet Fire Station 3 rendering

Rendering of the new station being built in Joliet for Station 3.

Joliet’s new Fire Station No. 3 will have something that the current station does not – separate locker room and bathrooms for women.

Joliet has never had any female firefighters, but Fire Chief Joe Formhals said that streak is not likely to last long.

“We’re going to get a woman on, it’s just a matter of when,” Formhals said. “You have to anticipate that. I don’t think we’re going to get 50 women all at once, but it will add a new dimension.”

Currently, about 200 people are on Joliet’s eligibility list and only four or five are women, Formhals said. When there is an opening, the department starts with candidates at the top of the list.

Formhals said the city hasn’t updated its eligibility list in years due to a virtual hiring freeze, but he hopes to create a new eligibility list and budget for new hires in 2012. More woman firefighter candidates could be picked up by requiring a paramedic certificate, Formhals said, adding the number of women in paramedic training programs are steadily increasing.

The complete article can be found HERE.

Thanks to Dennis McGuire, Jr. for spotting the article.


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