A female firefighter could face the challenge of having protective gear made for men and experiencing gender discrimination or sexual harassment. In addition, it is difficult for women to meet the weight-lifting challenges set by many fire departments, a challenge many men fail each year. Getting protective gear that fits is a major issue, because a lot of firefighting gear is designed with the majority of users in mind, which are typically men. Gender discrimination and sexual harassment occur both accidentally and on purpose, sometimes making the workplace of a female firefighter a hostile and abusive place.
Protective gear is an important part of being a firefighter. A female firefighter usually cannot wear gear designed for men, though, because women tend to be slighter of build and shaped differently. It is also not an option to wear very ill-fitting protective gear because this may increase the likelihood of severe burns or even death. Poorly fitted gloves, boots, and coats are some challenges female firefighters report. A woman sometimes cannot reach certain pockets or hooks and may struggle to keep her face piece in the correct position.
Firefighting was once a field solely for men, but more women join as time passes and stereotypes are forgotten or put aside. Still, surveys indicate that women are denied promotions or training based on their gender. For example, one survey polled nearly 250 women, and 45 percent responded that they were treated differently and denied opportunities given to their male counterparts at least once. About half of the 45 percent stated that the problem is ongoing. The importance of gender equality tends to differ by region, however, so problems such as these may happen more or less often depending on location.
Reports of sexual harassment occur more frequently for female firefighters than men. For example, one survey observed that 88 percent of more than 500 female firefighters stated that they had experienced sexual harassment. Some events the survey polled for were not illegal, but still usually not acceptable by other workplace standards. Others include typically illegal acts such as unwelcome physical contact and demands and blackmail for sexual favors.
Lifting and pulling heavy objects is yet another special challenge usually faced by a female firefighter. A potential female firefighter can train for months and still not achieve the muscle needed to run in extremely heavy gear, lift special firefighting ladders, and do 75 push-ups on a bad day. The bulkiest men sometimes drop out of firefighting training programs due to how difficult they are. Weight restrictions make it even harder for women because they can sometimes require a potential female firefighter to gain weight in muscle.