Gender crisis is a common world plague, especially when we are refearring to a so-called “male” job. The firefighter is one of those, because of the heavy shifts, the physical efforts, the dangers and so on. Now-a-days, about 5% of fire service is made up of women. According to this statement, the experience of Tracy Whitten, a firefighter/paramedic with the Denton (TX) Fire Department is proverbial. She is the founder and current president of North Texas Women Firefighters and she affirms “Firefighters should be able to show up to work regardless of gender or ethnicity without the crew whispering that they were only hired to meet a quota.”
She stated that since she was a child, she felt like females and males are not so different and they can be treated same way. But since she grew older, she understood gender stereotypes, and they are pervasive especially in the fire service. People see frefighters as men who are strong and can face any type of physical challange, on the contrary of women. However she decided to join firefighters and she was well aware that this job would have taken her away from children and husband for a while, she was mentally prepared to any emotional scenario. She knew what she was getting into. But soon, she quickly realized she did know nothing.
I was told I was not right for such a job. According to male society I was too small, too girly to become a firefighter. According to them I would be never able to grab and take someone in a safe place, physically. She was being labeled only because she is a woman. But one day, she met another female firefighter and she taught me to face stereotypes and to get through them. The only challenge is finding someone supportive who can help you doing what you love.
In addition, we also report the experience of Kristen Winters about the frustration of being a woman in fire service.
The thing is: it is not about women are better than men. It is a matter of equality.
I finished the fire academy, near the top of my class, just like the men. I graduated paramedic school, at the top of my class, just like the men. So why do I constantly have to prove myself?
This is an ongoing battle, and all my sisters can probably give me a shout-out here. Out of all the frustration though, nothing upsets me more than when I have to deal with it at my own department.
We were knee-deep in RIT training, discussing and trying different ways to pull someone out by using their SCBA harness.
There were several of us there: myself, another female in the department, “Sara,” and eight or so of my male co-workers. We just finished watching a demonstration given by an RIT instructor who is in our department.
He then pointed to each of the men, having them copy the exercise he just completed. He then got to me and Sara and said, “Why don’t the two of you do this together?” Sara and I looked at each other, eyebrows raised. She then turned to the instructor and asked, “Why?”
The answer we received floored me. “Because neither one of you can do this on your own.”
I am sure the anger on our faces was evident. I heard one of the men whisper “Woah,” under his breath. The guy on the floor, pretending to be down, visibly cringed. Of course our co-workers knew what we were capable of doing. All of our coworkers but the instructor.
Sara stepped toward the man down and went to work without another word spoken. After she was finished, she turned to me and said, “Kristen, it’s your turn.” I then did what I needed to do, with no help from anyone else. When I was finished, I walked out of the apparatus bay, Sara on my heels.
I quietly doffed my gear, not trusting myself to talk.
Have I not proved myself enough at this department? Did I not graduate the academy with half of the people standing out there? Have I not, time and time again, done the obstacle courses that are regularly set up? Do I not work out often enough, at the firehouse no less, so I can stay in great physical condition?
After a few deep and calming breaths I walked back out onto the apparatus floor without my gear, and watched the rest of the demonstration. Sara eventually joined me, no gear as well. No one said anything to us. Once the training was over, Sara and I donned our gear once more and ran through everything else we missed together.
Now, did we handle the situation appropriately? Probably not.
This particular instructor has let us know on many occasions he is displeased that women are a part of the fire service. He very rarely misses an opportunity to let us know in what ways he believes we are inferior.
That day for me was my breaking point. Walking away for me was better then anything I would have said.
I am aware of the physical differences between men and women. Men generally have stronger upper bodies, women have stronger lower bodies. Women generally last longer on air then men do. Men have the brute strength most women lack.
I may do something slightly different then a man, but I can still do the task, and complete it, in the same amount of time. Work smarter, not harder.
I am also aware that I may always have to fight this battle. This is the career I chose for myself, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. But know this: I am fully capable of pulling you out of a fire, carrying you down a ladder, and saving your butt if the situation calls for it.