Periodically I talk to women firefighters about the issues they are having in their departments related to the male firefighter mindset against them in their departments. The behavior borders on discrimination, harassment, hostile workplace, hazing and bullying coupled with plain rudeness making many women firefighters fear for their safety.
I just got off the phone this morning with a very accomplished women firefighter who is former military, a long term member of her department and has a professional career. She is also a mother with two children. This firefighter relates the story of walking into a fire station resembling a boys club whose members, including the chief; do not want her in their department. She states she is fit, was former service member, can perform beyond the department standards and relays the behavior of a bunch of boys (and not men) commenting on her physical attributes (her breasts referred to as headlights) and other demeaning comments but DO NOT mention her ability to perform her job. She has been put on “medical leave” awaiting a determination of a policy violation that did not even involve her; she has written letters to the Chief and Board complaining of the offensive behavior; the department has rescheduled her final probationary testing several times stating the department needs to increase the testing standards; she was accused of not placing equipment back on the apparatus correctly after training when the surveillance tapes indicate she was not even training on that apparatus and it was another firefighter; she is being shut out of training with the other firefighters so she has to train by herself and when she walks into the station, all conversation between the males stops until she leaves the room. She is being treated differently that all other members of the organization.
There are a couple of older male members of the organization who she states appreciate her being a member of the department, but she states the younger members including the Chief are a part of an obvious campaign to eliminate her from this department. Based on the reported egregious actions of the firefighters, Chief and the Board, she can own that department. She indicated she does not want to sue the department for the several violations of her rights under the law and all she wants to be is a productive and accepted member of the organization. Remember, there are hundreds of lawsuits involving women firefighters and the monetary awards for bad behavior by the department and firefighters are large.
So, how do we end this war on women in the fire service? First, start by examining your own bias towards women in all aspects of our industry (would you want your mother, wife, sister or daughter treated this way?); educate all of your members related to the laws protecting all member of your organization; ensure you have strong and updated department policies against discrimination to include the prevention of harassment, sexual harassment, hazing and bullying and a progressive discipline policy for those who violate them; have a zero tolerance policy related to discrimination, hazing, sexual harassment, hazing and bullying and finally train your supervisors to respond quickly and decisively to allegations of discriminatory behavior towards your women firefighters.
We are all here to serve our communities and certain firefighters do not have the right to determine who provides that service. Let’s get smart here and stop the war against women firefighters.
Thank you Paul
John, great post. The example you gave here is one of too many that are occurring to our members. Essentially, there are two places where we can find a portion of the root problems; the individual and the organization. At the individual level, there are closed minds involved. At the organizational level, there is a lack of leadership.
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