According to a September 20 article in the St. Petersburg Times, Clearwater Fire Chief Jamie Geer has ordered the nine women firefighters on his department to be restricted to exterior firefighting duties for the immediate future.
Chief Geer's move was in response to threats reportedly made by male firefighters' union members against some women who were considering leaving the union because they were unhappy with its leadership. The women were allegedly told that they "might not make it out alive" of the next fire they went to. Representatives for the union said they had no evidence of any threats having been made.
Geer said in the article that he did not believe the threats were based on gender, but that he had restricted all nine women "for their own safety" so as not to single out anyone who might have complained. The women had reportedly been given the opportunity to request a transfer or time off, but none had done so.
Lieutenant Anna Rowell, who was the only woman who agreed to speak to the media, said that she had not received any threats. She said that while the union was very strong and could be perceived as intimidating, she had always felt "taken care of" by the department's male firefighters, and "had never felt discrimination in this department until today."
Relationships between the Chief Geer and the firefighters union have reportedly been rocky. The union is expected to announce soon the results of a confidence vote taken about the chief, who has been on the job for a little over a year.
Update: Wednesday, September 21
The day after the St. Petersburg Times story appeared (and the morning after the union announced its no-confidence vote in the fire chief), the directive that had barred women from interior fire attack was rescinded. No comments or explanations were offered.
NETWORKING THE WOMEN OF TODAY'S FIREFIGHTING WORLD, AND PROVIDING RESOURCES TO HELP BUILD THE FIRE SERVICE OF THE FUTURE