By Jim “Pappy” Moore
My next-door neighbor is a retired firefighter. He chose to become a firefighter as a young man in his twenties. He was a strong, fit, good-sized man when he made his decision and commitment to fighting fires, treating citizens with serious medical conditions, and saving lives. He looks like a firefighter: big, strong, able to handle himself in dangerous situations.
Firefighting is a tough job. You have to wear heavy equipment weighing as much as eighty pounds. You have to be ready to endure incredibly high temperatures which result from burning structures. You have to go into raging fires to save people. You have to deal with heavy water hoses and perform tasks which require sheer strength. It is not for the physically weak.
Firefighters are called upon to react, day or night on a moment’s notice to the next emergency. Imagine having to pull an adult out of a swimming pool, a lifeless body that is limp, and bringing it back to life with your skills and dedication. Imagine entering the most treacherous neighborhoods, rushing past the barking dogs, through the cigarette smoke, past the drug paraphernalia, past the angry and addled residents to save the life of someone with a heart attack or seizure.
There is a huge physical component to being a firefighter. Like hauling a three-hundred-pound person on a gurney, down stairs and loading them into an ambulance. The citizens come in all sizes, and many of them are huge. That is why so many firefighters work out to remain physically up to the job.
Firefighters are exposed to dangerous burning chemicals which can affect their immediate health and their long-term health. They sometimes have to wear gear to protect their breathing in such circumstances. Serious fires almost always include the burning of materials which produce fumes toxic for humans to breathe.
For all of these reasons firefighting is mostly a young man’s profession. Fit, strong, physically large men make up the bulk of firefighters in America. They can be as short as five foot seven or five foot eight, but they must be built with a strong structure, capable of wearing heavy equipment, moving heavy equipment, handling very heavy hoses, and saving very heavy people.
Because of its physical requirements, firefighting is not a field which attracts many women. Few men are physically fit enough to become a firefighter, and even if they are, their window of being a firefighter is mostly twenties, thirties and forties.
My neighbor was a firefighter/EMT during his twenties, thirties and forties. The wear and tear on his body was significant. He carries injuries to his back, his neck, and his knees. His injuries are typical for firefighters.
The job of firefighting requires rigorous standards. Traditionally, there are physical standards which firefighters must meet to be accepted. Each firefighter must be depended upon by both the public and the other firefighters. You have to be able to handle your share of the hard work.
Should physical requirements for firefighters be lessened to allow those who fall below the standards in order to satisfy a societal desire for there to be women in the profession? Safety would say they should not be altered. Safety would say any woman who can meet the requirements should be allowed, but no exceptions should be made for those who do not. There are women who are big enough and strong enough to do the job. But in practice, many women who fall below the standards set have been accepted into firefighting because there is an active movement to place more women in firefighting. This practice puts both citizens and firefighters at risk to satisfy a goal which ignores the harsh physical requirements of the job. Does anyone believe a woman who is five feet four inches tall and weighs one hundred and twenty pounds can adequately become a firefighter? Will the men have to perform all the tough jobs while she handles only things which do not require size or strength? Is that safe for citizens? Is it fair to the other firefighters?
Firefighting/EMT work is hard enough for young, big, strong men. For most women it is an impossible task. Sanity must re-enter the process of hiring in jobs such as firefighting. When size and strength are a job requirement, making exceptions to meet societal political goals is a dangerous business.
Copyright 2023, Jim “Pappy” Moore. All rights reserved.