ICONS WFCA-09

Female Firefighter Support Organizations

June 21, 2023

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Women in the fire service are rare, but support organizations are working to raise the number of women in this career field. Fire Headlines connected with a female firefighter advocacy group to discuss the experiences of women in the fire service and how these associations can help support them. Chief Jeff Buchanan and Fire Headlines host Inanna Hencke speak with Captain Adrianne Ziyad and Deputy Chief Khalilah Yancey of Women in Fire about their career journeys in the fire service industry and the value that workplace advocacy groups offer.

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Female firefighters share resources and support women to join the fire service in the latest episode of Fire Headlines by the Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA).

Women in the fire service are rare, but support organizations are working to raise the number of women in this career field. A recent article shared in the Daily Dispatch detailed the advocacy and visibility work that Women Firefighters of Denver (WFFD) is doing. Fire Headlines connected with another female firefighter advocacy group to discuss the experiences of women in the fire service and how these associations can help support them. Chief Jeff Buchanan and Fire Headlines host Inanna Hencke speak with Captain Adrianne Ziyad and Deputy Chief Khalilah Yancey of Women in Fire about their career journeys in the fire service industry and the value that workplace advocacy groups offer.

Women in Fire

Adrianne and Khalilah are part of the International Association of Women in Fire & Emergency Service (Women in Fire). This non-profit network provides education, support and advocacy for fire service women. Membership in the organization is not exclusively female, as the intent of the organization is to create a collaborative environment for networking and communication. Khalilah says, “We have plenty of men that are members, men that come out to our events, men that […] come teach classes.”

In the U.S. fire service, approximately 4 to 5% of career firefighters and 15% of volunteer firefighters are female. The article notes that Denver’s fire service industry has the highest percentage of female firefighters in the nation at 8%. Khalilah calls out the value of WFFD’s TikTok providing visibility of women doing firefighting work. Adrianne also notes the importance of seeing women working in the firefighting industry, saying, “Sometimes people are visual. They need to see that that is an option for them.”

Stories of Female Firefighters

Adrianne and Khalilah share their respective stories about joining the fire service. Adrianne, who started working in the fire service in 1995 in Georgia, admits, “Initially, my experience wasn’t that great. I was in a smaller department that had no women. I wasn’t very welcomed, as you can imagine. They had a preconceived notion of what they thought women would bring or the problems that may arise with us being there. But after being there for a time [I was] able to overcome some adversities and some challenges with some of the male counterparts […] they just needed to get to know us and see that we were there to just accomplish a job, and we love the job! It’s a great profession, it’s a great opportunity to serve in your community.”

Khalilah also was drawn to the service aspect of the fire service industry. She initially prepared to join emergency services in high school, then worked in Johns Hopkins Hospital. When she joined the fire service in 2004, Khalilah worked hard to explore every possible job that her fire department offered. She says, “That’s just one of the things that I really love about this job, is that there’s no limits. You are your limits. You can continue to grow and mature and expand in different things. You just have to […] put the work in.” Khalilah is a small woman and is proud to show other women that they can do firefighter work, no matter their size. She says, “There’s a technique to anything. So anybody, it doesn’t matter if you’re tall or small, if you put your heart into it, it’s a job that you can do.”

Advocating for Women in the Workforce

Jeff shares a story about his realization that women firefighters often do not have uniforms that fit them. He responded by trying to create change in his department, but found that there were workplace culture tensions. It was difficult to find a way to encourage women to speak up about issues they had in the workplace, as they did not want to feel like they were getting special attention.

Khalilah notes that ill-fitting uniforms and gear are a workplace safety hazard in fire service. Her own training experience was made difficult by gear that did not fit. Adrianne offers ways to advocate in the workplace for solutions to the problems that women may encounter. She suggests going to leadership with the problem and proposed solutions.

Women in Fire offers trainings and resources to help women in the workplace. The organization has a monthly radio show, and Women in Fire and the U.S. Fire Administration are collaborating with several other stakeholders on a new document: “Emergency Health and Safety Issues of Female Firefighters.” Additionally, the Women in Fire International Conference will be held in San Diego, CA, on September 11-14, 2024. For more information about Women in Fire, visit their website.

You can email Fire Headlines at [email protected].

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