Study: Women firefighters can improve safety, but culture must change

Researchers said new ideas from women can increase safety in fire departments, but the masculine culture can make some females feel unwelcome

By FireRescue1 Staff

PHILADELPHIA — A recent study found that while fire departments can benefit from increased safety with female firefighters, the hypermasculine culture can make females less likely to share their ideas.

Science Daily reported that The Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends utilized focus groups of female firefighters to find what unique safety strategies women provide to the industry, and what cultural barriers might be doing to prevent this contribution.

Many participating women said they felt shunned in the industry, making it harder for them to engage.

"[A] hyper masculine environment limits all firefighters' ability to speak up and, thus, address safety concerns," wrote Yasin Kahn, Andrea L. Davis and Taylor in their article published in the “Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health.”

The study found that in spite of that, women firefighters are more likely to try unique ergonomic techniques on the job.

"We use better technique and lot of guys get hurt because they just try to muscle it or, God forbid, they ask a woman to help with a ladder," said one veteran female firefighter.

The study also found that reporting injury is seen as weakness.

"When [male firefighters] get hurt, they're going to go, 'I don't want to say something because that'll make me look weak and stupid,'" a 15-year female fire veteran said. "Whereas [women are] more like, 'I want to make sure I'm covered [by workers' comp] so if I really, truly get hurt, I'm going to be taken care of.'"

The study said understanding that everyone has different physical abilities despite their gender might make departments more welcoming to women, and a zero tolerance anti-discrimination policy is important.

"Stick to it," Taylor said. "Don't re-victimize the victims. Is it, 'Do what we say, not what we do,' or 'Do what we say and watch us do it by example?' Establishing policy is not usually the problem but, rather, policy tends to break down during the implementation phase."

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