Women in men's jobs

Over thirty years ago, a man on my fire crew told me women should be “barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen”. I hated that comment then, and had no qualms telling him he was a chauvinist.

In the Sunday, November 10th, 2013 issue of Parade Magazine, the article “Women Vets: A Battle all their Own” by Barry Yeoman, sounded like something straight out of the 1970’s.

Not unlike my battle in the Forest Service, sexual harassment is common in the military – where nearly 20% of women experience some kind of sexual trauma. You’d think after all this time, it would get better. Apparently not. Stacy Keyte was also told by a noncommissioned officer where her place was – kitchen, condition and shoeless. Eryn Sepp, deployed in 2007, made an excellent point. She said the sexual harassment was one thing, but what really bothered her was that men thought everything she did was somehow inferior, just because she was female.

Young women today need to understand that this behavior should be taken seriously. I’ve read that many women in their 20’s don’t make a big deal out of inappropriate comments even when in an office situation. It doesn’t matter where you work. If you are being treated less than equal because you are female (ditto for racial or religious stereotyping) you must speak up and make it known this treatment will not be tolerated.

Recent comments via email:

 Linda Strader seems to be just the kind of woman I admire--feisty, well-informed, and not afraid to speak her mind!  Since I'm older than dirt, I've seen it all, especially how most women suffered discrimination in some form or other. Here are some examples: 1. My mother, who taught in rural schools,  lost her job after she married in 1930, a common invent which did not apply to men when they married. Years later, she decided to get a college degree--and was turned down by 2 institutions before she found one that would take an "older" woman. She spent many  fruitful years teaching--and "subbed" until she was 89 years old!   When I went to college in the 1950s, I applied to the College of Education at a highly respected university--and was advised to stay home and raise my children. After I protested (with vigor), I was finally admitted to that school--and spent over 30+ successful years teaching English  in high schools and college. Fully employed, the first time that  I applied for a credit card, in the 1960s, I was told that I couldn't have  one unless I got my husband's permission!  Aha!  After a steamy interview with the "boss,"  I was granted one, however. Given these few examples, I can say that women have a long way since the good old days. Today's women face other challenges, of course. My advice?  Stand up for yourselves and speak out!

Replacing the fire shelter?

A new product is on the horizon.

The SunSeeker Fire Blanket, created by James Moseley, is touted to withstand temperatures of 2500 degrees for 4 minutes. Compare that to the current fire shelter carried by fire crews, that can only withstand 500 degrees for 2 minutes.

What was it like being a woman firefighter in the 1970's?

Bill Gabbert publishes my guest blog. Read here on Wildfire Today.

Recent comments via email:

 I enjoy hearing about women who were pioneers in career fields and other areas. Sounds like a story I want to hear.

I've read Linda's first chapter and hope to see more soon.  It is charming and funny - and alarming at times.

First lawsuit over the Yarnell Hill Fire tragedy

The recent news about the mother of one of the Granite Mountain 19 filing a lawsuit over the death of her son is not surprising. Certainly something went wrong that day. However, is anyone to blame for this?

Although I feel deeply for those who lost someone in the tragedy, the reality is they all knew the job was dangerous. If this lawsuit is won, the door will be wide open for more to follow. As one person commented on the Wildfire Today post about this news, it’s a dangerous job and these men knew they did not have the same life insurance coverage as permanent employees. I fully understand the dedication to their work – I loved my job too, and never for a moment worried about dying on the fireline. It was my choice, and I wanted the job no matter what the consequences. However, as a single woman back then with no dependents, certainly I did not concern myself with particulars like death benefits. If I had been married with kids - that's a different story.

Fighting wildfires means dealing with unpredictability. I learned a long time ago there is no fury like Mother Nature unleashed. Were these men sent into an area that was unsafe? As far as I can tell, being just about anywhere on a fireline has the potential to be unsafe. Where I fear this is going, is firefighters will stand and watch fires burn instead of putting them out. 

Backfiring on the Hog-Fong Fire 1977. Yeah, it was scary. But I accepted this as part of my job.

How do various firefighting jobs differ?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between different kinds of firefighters? News media will often refer to Hotshots, Helitack, Smokejumpers, fire suppression crews, engine crews or just use the terms “wildland firefighter” or “firefighter”.

Each of these titles refers to differences in either training, the type of fires they fight, or in some cases, the location of the fire.

Hotshots are elite firefighters composed of twenty people. Although they are stationed in various National Forests around the country, their job is to fight fires wherever they are needed. They also are not relegated to just fighting forest fires in National Forests. As an interagency team, they may find themselves on state or other Federal lands, such as those belonging to the Bureau of Land Management and National Park Service. Native American tribes also may call on Hotshots to help with fires on their land.

Helitack crews are specially trained for initial attack (first on the scene) in remote areas not easily accessed either by vehicle or on foot. They fly via helicopter, and are usually dropped off near the fire. Rarely do they repel from a hovering chopper.

Many people assume all wildland firefighters are Smokejumpers. This is not the case. Smokejumpers are specially trained to initial attack very remote fires that even a helicopter can’t safely access, parachuting from an airplane. This dangerous job has unique training all its own.

Fire suppression crews are usually composed of only ten people. They are stationed on a particular National Forest at the District level, and will only go to fires outside of their jurisdiction if the need arises.

The term Engine crew can refer to wildland firefighters or structural firefighters, both of who use water to extinguish flames. However, structural firefighters have completely different training than those who fight wildland fires. The training is not only different because structural fires involve using ladders, but fire behaves very differently in each case. Burning buildings have the potential to collapse on firefighters at any minute, and have the dangerous backdraft phenomenon. Fire also uses up all the oxygen inside, and creates toxic fumes, requiring them to wear Scott Air Packs. In contrast, forest fires create their own severe weather, adding dangerous winds to the mix. Also, while structure fires are usually confined to a few hours, many forest fires can go on for days or weeks.

What all of these positions share is they are dangerous occupations. Why do men and women choose these careers? Most love the excitement, prestige and glamour. Risky jobs, yes. However, they are full of rewards both in a job well done, and earning the respect from people who appreciate their hard work.