As I was leaving the corner store yesterday, I passed a young couple standing by the County Fire recruitment poster. The poster shows a group of firefighters in full bunker gear, both men and women.
Just as I walked past, the young lady said to her companion, “Can you imagine if your house was on fire and a girl firefighter showed up?”
I couldn’t help myself. I turned and said, “… and what would be wrong with that?”
She was caught off guard, a bit flustered … “oh, umm, well, nothing…”
“Right,”I said. “They’re as strong as the men are.”
This person has clearly never met some of the fine women on our local fire department, and she should. If she knew these women she’d never doubt that her life and property were in good hands.
One of our neighbours is a Fire Captain, and she most certainly knows her way around the equipment. She can run a hose or work the pump or do overhaul the same as any of the men. There are two sisters who joined the department fairly recently, and these young women scored the best marks the county has ever seen on one of the more challenging exams. These women know what they are doing, all of them. They’re held to the same standards the men are.
Now, it is true that on a volunteer fire department, not everyone is in prime physical shape. When this isn’t what you do for a living, it’s not practical to require everyone to put the time and energy into fitness that the full time firefighters do – for them, maintaining top condition is part of their job description, and many departments schedule workouts as part of a firefighter’s regular daily duties. Volunteer fire is a bit different, it has to be. There’s a lot of jobs that need doing: someone has to run the pump (which requires knowledge and skill, but not physical strength). Someone has to refill air tanks and hand out water bottles and man the radio. Someone has to drive. Someone has to hold the hose (and that *does* require strength as well as skill, but you can have a backup person helping to support the weight and ideally you switch out frequently so your arms don’t get too tired).
Volunteer fire departments need people who are willing to show up, willing to learn, and who know their limits and will work within them. They need people who will leave their dinner table to direct traffic around an accident so EMS can get in, people who will drive the tanker back and forth from the lake to the fire, hauling water for the crew who are dousing flames, people willing to aim a fire hose at a burning house or tractor or field of grass. They need people who are willing to go to some courses, people who will show up once a week for training, people who will carry a pager and do what they can to help whenever they are able.
Volunteer fire departments need people who recognize their limits and stay behind them: if you exceed your limits and put yourself at risk, you’ve just complicated things for your entire crew, and nobody wants that. There’s plenty of jobs that need to be done, find the one that suits your skills and abilities and do that.
But don’t assume that because you don’t have the physique of a body builder - or because you are a woman – that there’s nothing you can offer. Chances are really good your local fire department could use more help – the vast majority of departments are extremely low on resources.
Think about it.
And if you see a girl firefighter, please show her the same respect you’d show the rest of her crew. She might just be the one who saves your life some day.