Browse Frequently Asked Questions about Women in Fire and Women in the Fire & Emergency Services, select a topic below to get started.
FAQs about Women in Fire
Yes! We welcome anyone who shares our commitment to a harmonious, skilled, and gender-integrated fire and rescue service to join Women in Fire.
Women in Fire began in the fall of 1982 as iWomen, with the publication of its first newsletter. The organization officially incorporated in 1983, and held its first conference in 1985.
FAQs about Women in Fire & Emergency Services
Unfortunately, we have not been able to come up with an accurate number of current female fire chiefs. Hopefully, in the near future we will be able to conduct research and achieve better statistics on the number of women and the number of women in Chief Officer ranks. We do know that the first woman to head a career fire department, Chief Rosemary Bliss in Tiburon, California, retired in 2002 after nine years as fire chief.
Women are firefighters outside the U.S. as well. The most significant numbers are to be found in Great Britain, where more than 200 women are full time (career) firefighters and approximately 200 others serve in a retained (volunteer) capacity. Women firefighters can also be found in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Germany, France, the Netherlands, South Africa, Ghana, Panama, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Chile, and Brazil.
The main obstacles to women’s full participation in firefighting can be summarized as follows:
Resistance from some elements of the workforce
- Sexual harassment and other hostile behavior based on gender
- Skepticism about women’s competence as firefighters
- Emotional attachment to an all-male work environment
- Uncertainty over behavioral expectations in a mixed-gender workforce
- Perceived threat to self-image (i.e., being a firefighter does not bolster one’s manhood if women can do it)
- Distrust of women’s motivation for becoming firefighter
- Fire stations built to accommodate only one sex in sleeping, bathing, restroom and changing facilities
- Inadequate policies regarding firefighter pregnancy and reproductive safety, and inadequate information about the risks of firefighting to pregnancy
- Hair and grooming policies based on men’s styles and needs
- Protective gear and uniforms designed to fit men, not women
- Lack of child-care options for workers on 24-hour shifts
- Women may not believe they can be competent firefighters
- Women may not have the support of their spouse/partner in pursuing a fire service career
- Perceived conflict between a woman’s self-image as a woman and her work as a firefighter
- Discomfort with the “pioneer” role (i.e., many women who would like to be firefighters don’t want to be the first women on the job or the only woman in their firehouse)
- Distrust of the fire department’s motivation for hiring women and what level of real support will be provided in the long run
- Lack of public support for women’s presence in the fire service, based on a general perception that women can not do the job and are just being hired because of “affirmative action”
- Physically demanding and dangerous occupation
- High level of stress due to exposure to trauma and tragedy
- Work schedule requiring nights and weekends away from home
- Sleep deprivation due to work schedule and stress
Judith Livers (now Judith Brewer) was hired as a firefighter by the Arlington County, Virginia, Fire Department in 1974, becoming the first woman ever hired into a strictly firefighting position. Helping her firefighter husband study for his fire science classes, Livers learned about the devastation fire can cause, and was motivated to become a firefighter herself. She retired from Arlington County in late 1999, at the rank of battalion chief.
Many other women were in the fire service before 1974. The earliest were volunteer firefighters in urban and small-town settings, who date back to the 1800’s at least. Molly Williams was the first known woman firefighter, an African-American woman held as a slave who worked on Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City in 1818. Women have also worked as fire lookouts since the early 1900’s and, beginning in the mid-1970’s, as seasonal firefighters in the wildland sector.