Is firefighting all about physical strength?

Quite often the first thing people think of when they imagine what it takes to be a wildland firefighter is physical strength. I’ve had people look at me and say they can’t imagine how little-bitty-me could have possibly handled such a job. If you are a woman considering a fire job, but worried you aren’t strong enough, stop worrying.

The deal is—physical strength is not the only attribute needed to handle a tough job like firefighting. Who would make an ideal firefighter? While not everyone can all have all of the same attributes, here are some personal qualities that certainly would contribute to a sound and effective fire crew.

First off, fitness level and stamina are important, maybe more important than strength, and are something that anyone, regardless of gender, can attain with training and dedication to staying fit. Eating right? That’s a plus; because you can’t put the kind of demands firefighting requires on a body running on junk food and alcohol.

How about dependability, honestly and being trustworthy? If you can’t depend or trust someone on your crew, you’re all in trouble. Someone who is a quick-thinker and a quick-learner is important, especially if they can tap into those resources under pressure. I’d sure want to have someone like that by my side on the fireline. That goes hand-in-hand with dedication. You have to be dedicated to this job, or else find another line of work that is better suited to you.

Good communication skills are a must: which means that not only do you need to be able to express yourself clearly, you must know how to listen. Little is more detrimental to getting the job done right than someone who acts like they are listening, but are too busy thinking about what they will say next to actually comprehend what they are hearing.

What about common sense? It’s not as common as the term implies, and those that have it are one or even two steps ahead of everyone else. A sense of humor is also a bonus—a whiner and complainer can bring morale down, which is not good for teamwork.

To be clear, not everyone can have every one of those attributes. This is why a fire crew, composed of diverse members who all contribute their individual strengths, make the team stronger than it would be if everyone had identical strengths and weaknesses—and there will be weaknesses. We all have them! The ideal fire crew will have multiple, non-duplicated strengths, and will cover each other’s weaknesses, therefore making the weak spots less pronounced. Gender has nothing to do with what makes or breaks a good fire crew.

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