March is Women’s History Month. We want to recognize this important month by making fire service leaders aware of how USFA can help them support women and tackle the unique issues they face on the job. We also want to make women aware of the professional development and teaching opportunities that await them at the National Fire Academy.
of U.S. firefighters are women
Integrating women into organizations and departments that for generations had been bastions of all-male “homes-away-from-home” has not been easy. Despite more women serving in the fire service in recent years, growth and inclusion of women in the ranks has been extremely slow and lags behind the growth of women in other male-dominated fields.
Because it is essential for your department to achieve its full potential.
Carrye B. Brown was the first woman and African American appointed as U.S. Fire Administrator. Video credit: WUSA
The fire department should look like the community it serves. There's nothing that women can't do in the fire service.
In 2019, we published “Emerging Health and Safety Issues Among Women in the Fire Service.” This handbook, developed in partnership with Women in Fire, provides an overview of several unique issues that women face in the fire service. It also provides resources for women to help them stay safe and healthy on the job.
The direct consequences of discrimination and harassment in the fire station can lead to serious mental health and workforce retention issues. In addition, such behavior reflects badly on your department and negatively impacts community support. It can also result in a costly lawsuit against your department or jurisdiction. Instead of using your budget to fund additional personnel or much-needed apparatus and equipment, you could end up wasting it on unacceptable behavior.
I served in fire service for the love of the mission. We must continue to learn and be better, treat everyone with respect and dignity.
Indirect consequences of discrimination may result in health and safety issues related to improper fit of personal protective equipment (PPE) and equipment that is unnecessarily too large or heavy to operate.
Don't wait for an incident to happen before you hold your personnel to a higher standard. If you haven't already, adopt a zero-tolerance policy. Education on discrimination and harassment should be ongoing, not incident driven. PPE needs to properly fit and equipment should be configured for everyone to operate.
Bullying can be reduced by implementing clear workplace rules and policies, offering formal training to all employees on workplace violence and department policies, establishing a formal process for management and resolution of bullying, and implementing a mentoring program.
For the fire service to become gender inclusive, organizational leaders need to examine successful methods to attract and retain women. Women face physical challenges, psychological strains and challenges tied to the long-time male-dominated culture of the fire service. These barriers can adversely affect a department's ability to recruit and retain women.
There have been cases where agility tests were created to intentionally serve as a barrier for women.
Fire service leadership needs to implement evidence-based strategies to combat barriers to the recruitment and retention of women. Suggested strategies include:
The handbook also addresses these topics:
To find out how your department can take steps to address them, download “Emerging Health and Safety Issues Among Women in the Fire Service.“
Future opportunities for USFA research on women in firefighting include injuries, cancer, reproductive health and PPE sizing.
Martha Schoppe, Forestry Technician (Smoke Jumper)
Martha is currently the only female smoke jumper with the Department of the Interior. She started her career in wildland fire when she was in her 30s. Martha shares that being a smoke jumper is a challenging career both physically and mentally, and it has a lot of individual responsibility. Parachuting into a fire is very challenging, but she loves it because it gives her a sense of accomplishment.
Smoke jumping is definitely a service job. Knowing that makes the challenges easier. Our service is not only to the forest but also the community. Our relationship with the public is as important as putting out the fire. This is applicable to every emergency service job.
The National Fire Academy (NFA) continues its recruiting efforts to achieve a diverse and inclusive staff, instructor cadre and student body. We encourage women who are interested in advancing their fire and EMS careers to explore our leadership programs for executive fire and managing officers, as well as other classroom and online learning opportunities. Women interested in teaching at the NFA as contract instructors should explore our experience and application requirements.
As NFA Superintendent, I want to strengthen partnerships with other national fire service organizations, such as Women in Fire, that represent the growing diversity of the fire and emergency services.
Our classes range from incident management, leadership, EMS, hazardous materials, wildland urban interface, community risk reduction, fire investigation and many others. We promise that you will learn a lot in the classroom and just as much from your classmates.
The great news is that there is no charge to anyone who wants to attend any of our classes. We even pay for your airfare and lodging if you are selected to attend an on-campus course in Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Select 1 or more of the learning opportunities below to promote professional development opportunities and increase your awareness about health and safety issues that are unique to women firefighters and EMS responders.
Results from this study demonstrate the additional fit issues female firefighters face compared to their male counterparts.
Miscarriages and rates of pre-term delivery were found to be high among women who became pregnant while working as firefighters.
This study evaluates the relationship between chronic work discrimination and/or harassment and women firefighters’ physical and mental health, substance abuse, and job efficacy, stress and satisfaction.
Women wildland firefighters experience an array of challenges due to traditional gender norms, gender stereotypes and the culture of dominant masculinity. Strategies they use to deal with those challenges are described.
Strategies that some Canadian fire departments are using to recruit women into the fire service.
This study assesses organizational characteristics of fire departments that employ diversity and inclusion leaders to better understand how they impact firefighter workforce diversity and inclusion.
Stress related to harassment, intimidation, communication difficulties, inadequate training and job insecurity, combined with perceived or actual mistreatment from employers and colleagues, increases worker safety risk.
The underrepresentation of females and minority groups observed during this investigation of emergency medical technicians and paramedics suggests that EMS workforce diversity is unlikely to undergo substantial change in the near future.
The USFA commitment to fire departments and women in the fire service
We strive to work every day to promote gender inclusivity in the fire service. We support the fire and EMS in keeping women safe and healthy on the job. We support women getting the leadership training they need to advance their fire service careers.