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Firefighters fear female 'threat': study

Firefighters fear female 'threat': study

Published: 21 Jul 2011 11:25 GMT+02:00
Updated: 21 Jul 2011 11:25 GMT+02:00

Many firefighters fear that letting women into the profession will undermine the camaraderie necessary to do a god job in a work environment full of risk, a new study from the University of Gothenburg shows.

“They are worried as to whether they’d be able to act as naturally around each other if there were women present in the ‘family life’ at the station,” said the study's author Mathias Ericson to The Local on Thursday.

According to the firefighters themselves it is this camaraderie, this closeness, which enables them to do the job they do – it breeds trust and understanding for each other.

According to Ericson, although most were sceptical to letting women into the male dominated community, there were generational differences between what was perceived as the problem.

The younger firefighters who had the physical recruitment tests fresh in mind, were worried that the women wouldn’t be able to perform their duties to the same standards as their male colleagues due to physical weakness.

The older, more experienced firefighters, some past their physical prime themselves, thought that it was the trust and closeness necessary for the group to function as a team that would be lost if there were women in their midst.

“The older firefighters were the most critical to the macho ideal that society ascribes firefighters, they’d play down the need for physical strength and emphasize the need to work as a team,” said Ericson.

The study showed, rather surprisingly, that firefighters in Sweden don’t necessarily see themselves as macho men, but rather thought that the expectation of a firefighter to be macho was rather silly.

However, they also thought that the image of the firefighter as a hero sometimes was useful to gain the trust and respect from the public.

The fire-fighting community that Ericson describes in his report is undergoing change, slowly but surely.

When he started the study in 2003, there were 10 female firefighters in Sweden. Today there are over 100.

“The question is just whether this will change the image of the firefighter or if it will be divided where the male remains the hero and the female will represent something else,“ he told The Local.

Ericson recently defended his doctoral thesis “Up Close. Masculinity, Intimacy and Community in Firefighters’ Work Teams” at Gothenburg University.

The thesis is based on interviews and observations from several different fire stations.

Rebecca Martin (rebecca.martin@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

12:03 July 21, 2011 by axiom
simple fix, "don't ask, don't tell"

really i can't see the problem...
13:23 July 21, 2011 by jacquelinee
just more "Boys Club" bu-l sh-t.
13:48 July 21, 2011 by Iraniboy
Even in Iran there are female firefighters!
14:19 July 21, 2011 by Grokh
lol kick them out and have a just women firefighter then, i doubt the women will have problems working with men, so if the men have problems they can be unemployed xD.
14:40 July 21, 2011 by unseen
so woman can join the Army and police force, can handle situations in both war zones and crime world but a female can't work as a firefighter due to physical ability!!!???

silly, isn't it?
15:26 July 21, 2011 by calebian22
As long as there are not two standards for entrance requirements, women should be welcome. However the affirmative action lawsuit that is happening right now in Sweden , is proof that something stinks regarding the promotion of women ahead of more qualified men.
15:31 July 21, 2011 by J. L. Belmar
"They are worried as to whether they'd be able to act as naturally around each other if there were women present in the 'family life' at the station," said the study's author Mathias Ericson to The Local on Thursday.

Of course they would not be able to act as naturally around etc, etc. With women around, they would not be as horny as with women around. It is only a matter of understanding the phycology and sexual preferences of the majority of these brave "men".

Women have no problem at all. They would perform even better than many of the wimsy colleagues they would have.

And then, we men complain that women treat us like s... We are treating them like that and sometimes worse.
23:05 July 21, 2011 by Mark S.
The young guys should be careful what they wish for. We may BELIEVE that it is physical strength that is important. In that case, it is not man/woman that matters, but whether you can pass the strength test. Of course, you must re-take the strength test every 6 months or a year to prove that you are still strong enough. We know people naturally lose strength over time, even if they work out extensively.

The trust and closeness issue may be a problem, but only for a limited time. It is a problem because the men that are already there expect it to be a problem, so they feel uncomfortable with women. But the new people don't see the change. When you work with women your whole life (as I have), it isn't a big deal.
02:15 July 22, 2011 by Jailfire2002
I am a 59 year old American man and have been a professional firefighter for almost 24 years. I was married to a Swedish woman in the 80's. In the intervening years I have often returned to Sweden and on two occasions visited the Helsingborg FD. I found them to be an impressive group of men: knowledgeable, well-trained, physically fit and extremely capable.

The city I work for in is one of the poorest cities in America. It has a population of about 170,000 people jammed into about 8 square miles. I have been to 100s of fires in my career and have maintained my conditioning through the years out of respect for myself, the job I do and the community I serve.

About 7 years ago, the state I live in changed the requirements for obtaining the job in order to diversify the department. Since then 7 women have been hired.

When I took the test in the mid 1980s there was a pass/fail written exam which qualified one to take a physical test. One's subsequent placement on the physical test determined a candidate's rank on a hiring list: the score the applicant achieved counted for 100% of his grade. Hundreds of people- both men and women- would take the test and all were ranked according to their times. I was 34 when I took that test and I finished ahead of many younger men. In the many decades that this test was administered, no woman (and not many men) were able to finish high enough to be hired.

The test has since been radically changed and now the physical part of the test only counts for about 10% of an applicant's grade. The impact this change has had on the department has been significant.

None of the women currently on the job would have been hired under the standards established under the old test rules. There is no reason why citizens should be put in jeopardy (to say nothing of the firefighters themselves) in order to achieve some sort of sexual balance on a FD. I am NOT saying that a woman cannot do the job, only that they (or indeed any man who wants the job) should have to pass the same test I had to pass when I was hired.

Firefighting is an extremely labor intensive occupation. We have about 23 kilos of clothing and equipment on before we even pick up a tool or drag a charged fire hose into a burning building. Firefighting is not the same as police work: you cannot shoot at a fire.

If the same test existed when I was married to my Swedish wife in the 80's as does now, then she could/would have been the first female firefighter on the department. And she would have made a great firefighter because she was much more physically capable of doing the job than any of the women now employed- and at least some of the men (yes, there are men on the job who don't belong there either).

I would suggest that more stringent physical requirements be re-introduced to our testing procedures. I would be happy and proud to serve with ANYONE, male or female, who qualifies under those requirements.
02:15 July 22, 2011 by Kathi Peterson
My sister was happily married to a firefighter. Women were allowed into the department and within six months one of them was involved in an affair with my brother-in-law. Men and women share sleeping quarters and bathrooms. Divorces within the department have more than doubled since women were allowed to join the fire department. You connect the dots...
03:15 July 22, 2011 by Nifty
Anybody here over 85 kg?If so, picture yourself semi conscious from smoke inhalation lying on the floor of a burning house.Through the smoke you see a

FIREPERSON. Which sex do you want to see.Next stupid story...
03:20 July 22, 2011 by EP
I agree fully, the firehouse is no place for women
09:06 July 22, 2011 by calebian22
Exactly Nifty,

Do we want Mr. July swinging our unconscious selves over his shoulder with ease or an affirmative action promotion who dislocates our shoulder and gives us a concussion dragging us down a burning staircase because dragging instead of fireman carrying 75 kgs, 100 meters was the minimum requirement?
15:51 July 22, 2011 by MichaelZWilliamson
If a female can carry a 100kg man out of a burning building, I welcome her.

If she can accept the crass jokes and mindset without whining that entire generations of men need to change their culture to please poor little offended her, I welcome her.

There are some women who fit both criteria. We had a small handful in our military engineer unit. We also had one woman too small to move security barriers or lift some of our equipment, so it hindered where we assigned her. As great as she was at troubleshooting, she was a hindrance.

What can you expect for humor? That depends on how well she fits in, so to speak, with men who have big equipment, so to speak, and long hoses, so to speak, with which they cool down hot women, so to speak. There will be pinups in the locker room, masturbation jokes, etc.

It doesn't matter what you think of such humor. That's the nature of the culture. Either accept it, or go away. No, I really don't want to hear about why you think I'm wrong, or sexist (hint: My wife is perfectly capable of dealing with it and keeping her own sense of humor). If you move into an existing culture, you respect it, not insist it change to meet your own fetishes. Isn't that what a lot of Swedes are worried about with conservative Muslim immigrants?
18:23 July 22, 2011 by skylarkpilot
Oh dear.......Equality v Diversity

Right or wrong, in this day and age my moneys on Diversity winning the match.

Common sense would dictate that if there is a need for a physical test to get into a particular job then it should be the same for men and women. Unfortunately common sense left the building a while ago and shows no signs of returning.
04:50 July 23, 2011 by schmuck281
There's bound to be a conflict between men and women in close quarters.

When men get together with other men, they always talk about sex, and they always lie.

But women are much more vicious. When they get together with other women they always talk about sex too. But they tell the truth.

You can see where the conflict would arise.
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