I often get asked why I chose to become a firefighter when there are a plethora of jobs that are deemed more 'suitable' for a woman. The simple answer would be that I'm made for this job. I have the genetics that make me strong giving me the advantage of height and heft, I understand the physics of fire and have a knack for hydraulics and the mechanics of operating different types of fire trucks. I love working with the public and crews. You don't need to be a man to do these things well. But having said all this, there are some inherent challenges to being a female firefighter and living life in the firefighting culture:
No matter how new or how much seniority you have, as a female firefighter, you are always being watched and judged. You will often be questioned about your ability, either by your colleagues or by the public. Because females make up 2% of the firefighting population, we stick out like a sore thumb and as such, we are not able to fade in the crowd. Everyone knows your name and this isn't always a good thing. If there isn't a rumour about you already, one will be made up. Any mistake made is magnified ten times over. All the female firefighters I know have very thick skins. I wear mine like a badge of honour. Thank God I have a sense of humour and never really give a rats ass what people think of me on or off the job.
A guy can go with his crew off shift and party and act like a dumbass and no one will blink an eye. Should a female firefighter do the same, her actions may haunt her for the rest of her career. There is that fine line between friendliness and flirtation. And while you want to be friendly and easy-going with the guys you work with, taking things a step further isn't the wisest choice. Things are usually fine until the big breakup then camps get divided. And the guys will remember you for who you dated rather than the great work you do on the job. The saying never sh*t where you eat applies here. As much as I would love to socialize with the guys off the job, if it's at an event where there is tons of booze being consumed, I tend to pass. Once I saw a captain who was so wasted he stripped down to his tighty whities. To this day I have a hard time taking him seriously, let alone am I able to look him straight in the eye. The image of him dancing on a table in skivvieis enough to send me to therapy.
The physical demands of the job are demanding. On everyone. Male or female. Firefighting is tough and not gentle on the body. For the women, add a pregnancy or two, the body doesn't get much of a chance to rest. After some days on the job, I crawl back home bone tired only to continue with my work running a household. This I suspect will not get any easier as I age. I do not look forward to menopause. The day I fear breaking a hip dismounting from the firetruck is the day I hang up my helmet. But as bad menopause might be for the gals, it might be far worse for the guys while we unleash on them as we go through it. Or fight to lower the station thermostat. Dudes, payback is a bitch. lol
Even if I won the lottery, I would still go into work because I love the chaos, the dirt, and the unknown that comes with the territory. And there is no other place apart from my own little family, that I feel as needed, loved and respected in spite of the ups and downs. Female or not, firefighting is my dream job. And while I may never be the greatest, the strongest nor the best, I am darn good at what I do. And that's all that really matters at the end of the day... and to be able to include myself in this band of brothers. xo