“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.