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  • 09/23/2003
  • WildlandFire.com Team
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Totally for Women in the workplace in the fire environment:

Been following the discussion in Family said – and I agree with most points
– especially about real change coming from stepping outside the box and
developing one’s own management style and taking risks. One has too to
break thru the glass ceiling of the male rooftop. But the femininity issue
comes down to an observation over twenty five years. Those women that
fought A LOT of fire – usually chose to stay close to the fireground as
they rose thru the ranks. There are many women FMO’s and Asst. Fire
Staff’s – who choose to go no further as they found a niche without having
to play the overt politically correct mindgames at the highest level. Most
of these women know how far they can go and choose not to – I’ve asked many
of them why? – and they don’t want to be considered “favored” or
politicians – or worse – power junkies.

On the other hand, look how many women broke through the ceiling, manage to
do great work as administrators and directors, but at a cost of giving up
experience on the line and developing key operational skills.

What’s changed with women in the upper ranks, since about 1990 they have
risen through independence and free thinking and utilizing some sensitivity
in management (that many older fire dogs just don’t see as an attribute).
Although some women in “power” also abuse it, play favorites, and quite
frankly – “know it all” – even when they’re wrong. That promotes the lore
of unqualified. Good managers “play and share with their people” so
underlings can succeed. Some appear more interested in chunking qualified
males but I guess that’s a spin-off of the adversity caused by the consent
decree; “stay in one place and the world will open up for you, but you
might have to kiss a little OH derrière.

So what’s changed that helped the cause of women: 1) standards, 2)
socio-dynamic equality (ad nauseam CD), 3) some of the more experienced
women actually making a conscious decision to use their field experience
(beyond squad boss, or dispatch center leader) to honestly seek reform -
and who can argue with those who have put in their “NFL” season with the
troops on the ground. As far as standards: many men and many women never
made it to the elite Type 1 firefighter level pre 1985 for a simple reason
– physical standards were changed for many programs. Used to be a
qualification that 20 pull-ups were needed to pass the jumper physical.
This knocked out so many candidates. When the standard was changed to
seven – the results tell the story. There are many more examples of how
standards have changed that have opened the door for both male and female,
especially the adoption of ICS with its inherent co-ed command and general
staff positions. Many males and females grew through the ranks by getting
involved – it was a processing procedure that helped bring change to all -
and the savvy women took more advantage of it. No more “fire bosses”
(gender oriented Title); now via ICS, its easier for any gender to become
incident/area commander, or a “chief.” The smart ones took advantage of
it. Also having a female Fire Director in the mid-nineties helped the
cause (sensitivity training “three days in May,” Mutual respect, etc). All
good things AND excellent opportunities.

If you can’t change the system, modify or update standards and training. A
good male leader stands out no more than a good female leader. All support
to Women in Fire – but lets not overlook what changing times have done “for
the good of the order.”

Thanks for the opportunity to share,
Emerging Flower

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