FIRE 20/20 News and Resources
FIRE 20/20's monthly eNewsletter delivers inspiring articles, thought-provoking interviews and useful tools for Fire/EMS personnel, and those considering a career in the fire service. Topics are oriented around diversity recruitment and retention.
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03-09-10 -- A lot of attention gets focused on women having to prove they can do the job. With this article, FIRE 20/20 wants to shift the focus to how women in the fire service have improved the job.
Ask men and women what they love about the job and the answer is the same: service, challenge, physicality, variety, teamwork; continually learning, the community's respect. Men and women are trained and expected to follow the same operational procedures. Yet despite these similarities, pervasive in the culture of the male-dominated career is the belief that "different from will morph into less than." Research from the business world is showing how women are adding pluses to the equation.
In 2005, the private consulting firm Caliper published its study comparing women and men as leaders.
Finding 1: Women leaders are more persuasive than their male counterparts.
The strong people skills possessed by women leaders enable them to read situations accurately and take in information from all sides. This willingness to see all sides of a situation enhances their persuasive ability.
Finding 2: Feeling the sting of rejection, learning from adversity and carrying on with an "I'll show you" attitude.
Women express a unique approach toward dealing with disappointment, rejections or situations that don't work out their way.
Finding 3: An inclusive, team-building leadership style of problem solving and decision making.
Women leaders scored significantly higher in empathy, flexibility, sociability, and urgency (a need to get things done immediately).
Finding 4: Women leaders are more likely to ignore rules and take risks.
The women leaders are more likely to push back when they are overly bound by regulations and rules, engage in more risk taking and come up with innovative solutions. Women leaders are venturesome, less interested in what has been than in what can be.
We think it’s easy to find examples of these findings in the fire service. And add more!
Assistant Chief Teresa L. Deloach Reed, San Jose Fire Department
"Women have brought more patience, empathy and compassion to the profession. We've increased professionalism by moving away from the boys' club atmosphere."
Her story …
"Back in 1985, I was an installer with Pacific Bell Telephone and with the impending break-up of the Bell System was thinking about changing careers. For a short while I considered becoming a police officer like my brother. San Jose Fire was hiring at the time and the job description included something about working with ladders. As a telephone installer, I said, 'I can do this.' Of course, during my training, I learned how my so-called experience with ladders was laughable.
"Let me give you some context for the year I was hired. Chief Robert Osby came to San Jose with an agenda to bring diversity to the department. Up until 1986, Karen Allen was San Jose's only woman firefighter. When she retired she had 28 years of service. I was one of nine women hired in 1986 and San Jose's first African American woman firefighter.
"Karen was truly a trail blazer. She was respected and that was a double-edge sword for us because we were all compared to Karen. 'Karen wouldn't do it that way. You need to talk to Karen about how to manage that.' So we felt the expectation that we would become Karen #1, Karen #2; #3. That was difficult.
"I have to give Chief Osby a lot of credit. A lot of times fire chiefs want to diversity a department and they think that all they have to do is hire the people, check the list and say, 'I've done my part. Now it's up to you to fit in.' Chief Osby took a more progressive approach in preparing the environment for women by addressing some of the basic issues like bathrooms, locker rooms and being very clear about not tolerating overt discrimination and harassment. He was also open to discuss and change policies such as the grooming standards, the uniform standard, and the pregnancy policy, making each more inclusive.
"Unfortunately, there was still the covert behavior to deal with. I would come into the kitchen in the morning and everyone is sitting around fellowshipping, having coffee, reading the newspaper. I would get my coffee and sit down and look around the kitchen and realize I'm sitting by myself. I felt isolated. The exclusion made my first five years very difficult. It also made me angry.
"Looking back, with the perspective of taking responsibility for my role in any situation, if I could do it all over I would have looked to those individuals who were willing to support me instead of painting everyone with the same brush.
"I also firmly believe that having an environment of inclusivity must be valued and reinforced. We work toward that every day here in San Jose.
"We have women in the battalion chief rank, company officer and fire engineer and have women working throughout all the divisions in the department. Parity remains a goal but we have come a long way."
Tomi Rucker, Fire Inspector, District of Columbia Fire Department
Chairperson — Women's Advisory Committee, Local 36 IAFF
"Time and time again, I see the calming effect we have that comes from our ability to be empathic and show we really care about where others are coming from."
Her story …
"Needing to get a job after I graduated college was the reason I applied to the D.C. Fire Department. I had never ever considered being a firefighter because I never saw women on the fire trucks. I took the test. Eight years later, I got a call. 'If you still want a job, it's available.' At that point, I'm 35 and have a family. I'd been working as a corrections officer. With a 'what the hell attitude', I decided to go ahead and say, 'Yes.'
"Six months after I graduated from the academy in 1996, I went to the World Police & Fire Games. I won four gold medals and set four records. My battalion chief thought I deserved some publicity but no one in the department was doing anything about it. Out of frustration, he contacted the union president Raymond Sneed. We got the attention and a whole lot more a few months later. Here's what happened.
"I found out about a woman firefighter who was pregnant and was being forced to stay on the truck. I went to the union president and he said that women had never approached him with problems. The reason why? You'd go to the meetings and being outnumbered by so many guys made the women feel like their issues weren't big enough. The president formed the Women's Advisory Committee and for 'running my mouth' made me chairperson.
"With legal counsel and additional help from Women in The Fire Services, we eventually found out that forcing a pregnant firefighter to stay on the truck was illegal.
"We went on to change policies that made the department safer—doing our jobs with gear that fit—and more welcoming to women. The Women's Advisory Committee was instrumental in getting physical fitness training for women and men for the physical agility test we used before CPAT. Now for the past two years, women and men can get coaching for CPAT.
"Camp 911, a week-long summer program for girls, is going into its third year. It was so successful last year that we ran two groups for a total of 48 girls. This coming summer, we're going to target Hispanic girls.
"I've been very fortunate for the support I got from the guys when I joined Engine Company 8 as a probe and for the support I get today from Chief Dennis Rubin. He 'walks the talk' believing that women belong in the fire service and make positive contributions."
Acknowledgement from some of the family's 'brothers' …
"In a field that has been dominated by males for decades, women firefighters have made their voices heard and their presence felt in many ways. The fire service is going through a unique time in which women are becoming leaders of major fire departments across the country. I have had the pleasure of working with many women firefighters who have made outstanding contributions to my department, working twice as hard as the male firefighters for only half the credit. My career began working for the only woman officer in the department—she was my introduction into the LAFD and the fire service. We worked in a low income area during difficult times. I was lucky to work with a group of people that truly cared about how we did our job, and the importance of doing the very best for the community. Caring for the people and the community has become this huge catch phrase in the fire service, with some truly seeing the importance of it, while others are merely talking the talk. This woman officer was doing/living it long before it became the buzz. My career has forever changed because I had the opportunity to work with this officer. She truly taught me the importance of taking care of your crew and what community relations is all about. Women firefighters have added an extra needed dimension to the fire service that is sometimes lost in all of the testosterone and male macho fire eaters. For departments that have not embraced the added value that is brought to your station, company and department by women firefighters, you are missing out! My professional career and home life have been forever changed because of the humility, knowledge and professionalism of the women that I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from."
—Captain Roy Paige, Los Angeles Fire Department
"I really want to support a woman being a woman. I didn't want her to think that she needs to assimilate and deny or dumb down any of her feminine characteristics. When women came into the fire service, they upgraded the environment. It was so refreshing. It was like a gift from heaven, making us become more conscious as to how we're treating and relating to each other. Very valuable."
—Chief Robert Oliver, Redmond, WA
"I'm very thankful that I've never known our profession WITHOUT our sister firefighters, paramedics, EMTs, fire marshals, and telecommunicators. To me it's a very simple equation: women are roughly 50% +/- of the human population. We simply cannot function effectively without them. The same is absolutely true in the fire and emergency services."
—Chief Adam Thiel, City of Alexandria, VA
"I can't imagine going through the old days again without women firefighters! I would miss the dimension of diversity that women provide along with opportunities to expand roles and service delivery to the community."
—Chief (Retired) Carter H. Jones, Clarendon County (S. C.) Fire Department
"There's the strong ability to be able to connect on an emotional level. They bring more compassion to the workplace. Without women, it's a one-sided perspective, set of values and approaches. Our service to the community, our problem-solving, our bringing about better results and outcomes, need women!"
—Kelly Fox, President, Washington State Council of Fire Fighters
"Women's greatest contribution has been the compassion they have brought that is so integral in our delivery of pre-hospital health care, which has turned out to be one of the staples of our service delivery packages. Additionally, many women in fire services have turned out to be some of the most intellectual members of the industry."
—Chief/CEO, I. David Daniels, Woodinville (WA) Fire & Life Safety District
"Women have enhanced the quality and richness of the culture of the American Fire Service. We have experienced their compelling impact both internally to our departments and externally in our communities. Our predominately male organization has developed a greater awareness of sensitivities related to caring for girls and women in emergencies incidents, consequently enhancing the quality of care and professional service they receive as patients or victims—whether a woman is on the crew or not.
"Every day, there are women firefighters across our great nation performing their jobs with their male crew members in firefighting, emergency medical services, and special operations as unquestionable equals. Women fire officers and chief officers are demonstrating their value as leadership and management professionals in fire departments and fire service associations at the local, state and national level and in the federal government. Women in the fire service bring interpersonal balance to firehouse crews, battalions, and administrative teams. As we celebrate Women's History Month as a nation, let's not forget to celebrate the tremendous contribution of women in the American Fire Service."
—Kelvin J. Cochran, United States Fire Administrator