Again I want to applaud the people on Family Said for having a fine
community and holding interesting and important discussions.
But what caused me to de-lurk was a memory stirred by the talk on women in
firefighting. Some of you may recall that I once was married to a woman
that was in helitack – I wrote here about sending some flowers to her at a
helibase while she was on a fire assignment.
We were dating when she decided to go into firefighting, so I did what I
could to help her get going, but she did all the work. She had the desire
and got into top shape (she could do ten pull-ups and all the rest, and
later in life got hired by a municipal fire dept after passing the
rigorous “combat test”).
She got herself hired onto a helitack crew (different agency than mine), and
I did what I could do to be supportive and helpful. We had lots of talks
about how hard it can be for a woman to break into fire and be accepted.
But I have sort of a mischievous nature, and sometimes can’t help myself.
One day early on in her first season, while her helicopter was pre-
positioned on stand-by near my station, I grabbed one of my prized metal
Bullard hardhats (we could still wear them then – it was a different time
and a different place) and picked up a can of a nice pink spray paint. I
went over to the helibase, and said hi to the crew – I’d known the foreman
for some time. Then I set the coveted metal hardhat on the deck and
carefully spray-painted it a pretty rose pink.
When I’d finished, the helitack foreman snickered at me and asked “Hey Bob,
are your guys wearing pink hardhats now?” “No,” I replied, “not MY guys…”
and I handed the hat to my girlfriend as a present. The entire crew looked
on in semi-shocked silence.
Now, you can just imagine how the idea of a pink hardhat went over with some
of the less-enlightened guys in the fire world even (or especially) when
worn by a hard-charging, strong, competent firefighter. BUT to her
everlasting credit she WORE that pink hardhat for two seasons. It provided
both of us with no end of amusement to see how people reacted to it. She
said it was a pretty good barometer to tell who took themselves a little too
seriously. It only worked because she was SO good at her job and held up
her end of the ground-pounding and then some.
Just about everyone that got to know her got in on the joke, and before long
her crew was proud of her and enjoyed the whole thing. I always admired the
strength and determination she showed in being a first-class firefighter and
being able to stay in touch with her feminine side. I once flew air attack
on a fire where her crew was building line, and I noticed that I could spot
her easily from the air – that was pretty cool.
Just a little story with no real point, except maybe that sometimes women
(or people!) in fire can address vexing issues by confronting them straight
on and even make a joke out of them. But I’m not sure I’d try a stunt like
that these days.