A new report from the U.S. Fire Administration addresses the unique health and safety issues that women often face in the fire and emergency medical services professions.
Emerging Health and Safety Issues Among Women in the Fire Service offers recommendations and explores initiatives intended to reduce injuries, fatalities, and illness among on-duty female firefighters and emergency responders.
The report, developed with Women in Fire (formerly the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services), explores topics such as physical challenges, psychological strain, mental health, harassment, and cancer risks.
It also details how companies typically lack of female-specific personal protective equipment. All too often, PPE is too big for women, or it does not fit them correctly.
Female firefighters are 1.8 times more likely to sustain injury or illness in the workplace.
According to the National Fire Protection Agency, “overexertion or strain” is the most common cause of injury, followed by “exposure to hazard.”
Over the years, the percentage of women in the fire service has grown exponentially. In 1999, about two percent of career firefighters in the United States were women.
In 2015, that number grew to 7.3 percent, accounting for nearly 13,000 career firefighting positions, and more than 72,000 (8.9%) volunteer roles.
Health & Safety Risks
The main risks of being a professional firefighter do not discriminate when it comes to gender.
43-year old Baltimore firefighter, Amy Dant, a lieutenant for the Montgomery department, survived cervical and thyroid cancer. She eventually received workers’ compensation coverage for her illnesses.
Currently, scientists are working to develop a cancer registry to monitor the disease, and trace links between firefighters’ exposure to carcinogens and the incidence of cancer. Many departments across the country, including those in Dant’s home state of Maryland, are trying to reduce employee exposure to carcinogens by funding new equipment and changing policies.
The U.S. Fire Administration included recommendations that are being investigated to improve the lives and health of female firefighters.
- Establishing an adequate data reporting system.
- Developing training to better support an integrated, diverse workforce.
- Ensuring groups that develop equipment and facility designs consider the full diversity of the fire service.
“Evidence on health and safety issues among women firefighters has only recently been a focus of study, and the results are trickling in,” the report states.
“Further research involving larger samples of women in the fire service are needed in order to generalize results to women firefighters.”
On-Site Firefighter Physicals
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