Women firefighters — not as strong but more deliberate

 

At least some of the hurdles faced by women in the fire service are physiological (“Trial by Fire,” HCN, 5/30/16). The larger muscle fibers of men typically provide double the strength in the upper body and about 50 percent more in the lower body.

In wildfire, the gatekeeper is the “arduous pack test,” which requires carrying a 45-pound pack over three miles of level ground in 45 minutes. By design, this test eliminates more people of smaller stature (shorter legs) and lighter weight, which includes a larger percentage of women.

Not long ago there were three tests, including a timed run and a “step test” to gauge cardiac fitness. Now we have only the one-size-fits-all pack test, and firefighting suffers as a result. As long as they don’t try to “out-man” the men, women tend to employ mental processes that are more deliberative and less impulsive.

This is the perfect complement to innate male patterns of thought and action and translates into a safer and more efficient work environment, qualities that are welcome on any well-managed fire.

John Walker
Fire chief, Western Fremont Fire Protection District
Coaldale, Colorado