Female Firefighter Still Fight For Equality: ‘We’re Assumed Incompetent’

By Robert McCoppin, Angie Leventis Lourgos and Alicia Fabbre
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nationwide, only about 4 percent of firefighters are women.


The Oval Office notwithstanding, there are very few workplaces left in the United States where women have not gained entry.

But in one of the last places in the workforce where a virtual male monopoly endures, fire stations, it’s still possible in 2018 for departments to hire their first female firefighters.

Such is the case in Joliet, which announced this month it took on its first female recruit in its 165-year history.

Though many departments started hiring women decades ago, some still have only one woman firefighter and some have none.

Nationwide, only about 4 percent of firefighters are women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, even as that figure has risen to about 14 percent in police work and the military. Even traditionally male occupations like farming and construction management have higher percentages of women than firefighting.

“The numbers are abysmal,” said Cheryl Horvath, a former firefighter in downstate Urbana and past president of the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Services. “I don’t know that we’ve been able to gain the traction we need to get to that critical mass point.”

Attitudes toward women in the profession have generally improved, Horvath said, but some still face horror stories.
In Fairfax County, Va., firefighter Nicole Mittendorff took her life in 2016 after being harassed about her work online. The department appointed a woman to address gender problems, but she resigned this year, according to local reports, saying no one was heeding her suggestions.

This year, the U.S. Department of Justice sued the city of Houston over claims that two female firefighters were victims of sexual harassment that included male co-workers urinating in their dormitory, writing sexist messages on the walls and deactivating speakers so the women couldn’t respond to emergency calls.

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