Gender Issues and Fire Stations Facilities

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By Francis J. McElroy

The problem is the St. Johns County Department of Emergency Services (SJCDES) does not have a standardized policy for the provision and use of bunkrooms and restrooms for firefighters of different genders. The purpose of this research was to create a policy for the provision and use of bunkroom and restroom facilities by firefighters of differing genders. This project was conducted using the action research method.

The following research questions were posed: 1) What state or federal regulations exist relevant to the provision and use of facilities by differing genders? 2) What are the current facilities (restrooms and bunkrooms) available to male and female firefighters at fire stations in SJCDES, and how are they being used? 3) What concerns or opinions do female firefighters and station officers have regarding provision and use of fire station facilities?

An inspection of existing fire stations was conducted to determine the current bunkroom and restroom facilities available, and their current usage. A survey of female firefighters in the SJCDES was conducted to determine their preferences for the provision and use of facilities. A similar survey was conducted of SJCDES officers to determine their preference and to obtain their opinion of what female firefighters would prefer. The surveys were then tabulated and the results either expressed as a percentage or shown in a table format. A policy was created that addresses the designation and use of bunkrooms and restrooms in SJCDES fire stations. The policy included guidelines for future fire station renovations or new construction. Survey results included a unanimous preference among female firefighters for gender specific restrooms, and agreement among all respondents that a single open floor plan bunkroom was not the most desirable sleeping arrangement.

The recommendations from this research included a) incorporating the sample policy in the department's policy manual b) providing gender specific restrooms whenever possible c) providing a means of locking all unisex restrooms d) providing partial height partitions in all multiple occupancy bunkrooms e) providing gender specific bunkrooms wherever existing facilities permit and f) conducting further research into the impact of unisex sleeping facilities on firefighter's families.