The fire service has long been known for being one big family. It is more truly a family now than ever before, with the inclusion of ever-increasing numbers of women on fire departments in the U.S. and around the world.
While Women in the Fire Service, Inc., began in 1982, women in the fire service date back into the 1800's as members of volunteer fire brigades. Women made their way into the ranks of seasonal wildland firefighters in the early 1970's, and the first female career firefighter was hired in 1974.
Today, some 6,200 women in the U.S. work as career firefighters and officers, with perhaps 40,000 in the volunteer, paid-on-call, part-time and seasonal sectors. These women have hundreds of counterparts in all aspects of the fire service in many countries around the world. Women serve as chiefs of career and combination fire departments in every region of the U.S., along with many dozens more who are chiefs of volunteer departments.
Women in the Fire Service is an organization of women and for women -- but not for women alone. Male fire chiefs, union presidents, EEO officers and others seeking to make the fire service a professional place where women and men work together harmoniously are finding WFS a valued source of information and counsel. Our membership includes men in all ranks, as well as institutional members such as fire departments and union locals.
Nonetheless, WFS is mostly women. As the one organization that speaks specifically for them in their profession, WFS continues to increase in membership. Hundreds of women firefighters and officers from urban fire departments and state or federal wildland agencies belong, as do EMT's, paramedics, inspectors, dispatchers, and fire service educators. Career and volunteer firefighters and rescue personnel in 48 states and eleven countries are members. Members range from not-yet-hired "wannabe's" to senior officers with more than two decades of service. They are diverse in background, and united in their commitment to their profession. To the fire service, WFS is their voice.
And that voice is an influential one. WFS holds seats on several committees and task groups of the National Fire Protection Association, where we have helped establish standards for firefighter qualifications. We often take part in advisory groups providing input to the National Fire Academy, and maintain collegial relationships with the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters and the National Association of Hispanic Firefighters. Two handbooks commissioned by the U.S. Fire Administration and authored by WFS are considered authoritative references on gender issues in the fire service.
An interactive non-profit network, WFS provides education, support and advocacy for fire service women. The network is linked and strengthened by its respected publications, which carry informative articles on current issues from promotion and career development to recruitment programs and reproductive safety policies. The newsletter often includes job announcements that link fire departments seeking female candidates with women seeking employment. We also offer a videotape and brochures to help fire departments recruit female firefighter applicants, and information packets on issues of particular relevance to women.
At our international conference held every two years, hundreds of fire service women and men gather to share experiences, challenges and insights in a relaxed and supportive educational setting. On the alternate years, our Leadership Training Seminar provides officer development for women seeking promotion to line and administrative positions.
Women who have chosen this field share not only a dedication to their work but also unique problems and issues. To help them deal with these matters, WFS maintains an extensive bank of information resources on relevant issues such as physical abilities testing, hair-length standards, gear and uniform availability, firefighting techniques, reproductive safety and more. We offer guidance to women who must decide how to deal with sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination, and we provide strong, active support for the creation and growth of local networks of fire service women.
All of this information is thoroughly researched and up to the minute, thanks to regular WFS surveys of fire service women and frequent contacts with its membership and others in the field. Our workshops and booths at national and regional conferences of various fire service agencies create a two-way data flow, distributing information to the fire chiefs and departments requesting it while constantly updating our data base with current numbers and issues.
Women who are fire officers and aspiring chiefs may also be interested in the Women Chief Fire Officers' organization.
We get by with a little help from our friends, whose contributions supplement the dues and voluntary donations of WFS' members. Your contributions of any size are always welcome, usually tax-deductible,* and very much appreciated.
We play different parts in the fire service: firefighter, officer, chief, paramedic, EMT, fire inspector, arson investigator, fire safety educator, training instructor.
We work in the cities and the small towns, the forest and the desert.
We are career professionals, seasonal employees, and dedicated volunteers. We are of all ages and many races, speaking many languages.
For all our differences, we have still more in common: our love of the work we do, our dedication to service, and our commitment to excellence.
NETWORKING THE WOMEN OF TODAY'S FIREFIGHTING WORLD, AND PROVIDING RESOURCES TO HELP BUILD THE FIRE SERVICE OF THE FUTURE