How many women are in the fire service in Ontario?
Good question! There are no reliable statistics in Ontario/Canada. We do know that women make up roughly 3% of firefighters, based on U.S. statistics.
What are the goals of Fire Service Women Ontario (FSWO)?
Our goals are to inspire positive change in the fire service, to encourage the development of a diverse workforce based on core values, to develop potential through networking and support, to recognize role models and mentors, and to foster supportive relationships among women in fire service.
Why do we need FSWO?
FSWO takes a leadership role in diversifying the fire service. In supporting women who have chosen this rewarding career, we in turn help to meet the needs of the diverse communities we serve. FSWO provides its members with opportunities to network across the province, access professional development opportunities and to collectively address their common interests.
We believe we can help fire services to proactively address issues that might otherwise deter capable and qualified females. These are rewarding and challenging careers, and there are many qualified and capable individuals that can benefit from mentoring and encouragement, and organizations that can benefit from timely solutions to challenges.
Why is diversity in the fire service important?
Many organizations are seeking ways to better serve their citizens. Having a service that reflects the diversity of our communities is a goal that we strongly believe is shared by municipal and fire service leaders across the province. We believe we can enhance the dialogue on this important issue, working towards positive and successful strategies and solutions.
Who is eligible to be a FSWO member?
Our membership reflects a wide variety of individuals (female and male) who serve in career and volunteer fire service roles as well as fire service leaders, educators, municipal officials, and other related roles, as well as organizations (e.g. fire departments and associations). We welcome anyone to join who shares our commitment to a professional, skilled, harmonious, and diverse fire service.
Are men eligible to become members of FSWO?
Yes. We welcome membership by anyone in the fire service who aspires to our goals and can either learn from or contribute to the forward-looking dialogue on the benefits and strengths of diversity in our fire services.
How many members does FSWO have?
Our membership is 246 as of December 2016 and we are continuing to grow.
What are the main issues FSWO is addressing?
The first women in fire services were considered “pioneers” as has been the case in many other traditionally male workforces. However, the fire service has lagged behind others (such as policing) in developing a diverse workforce.
A residential-style work environment is quite unique to the fire service and present some challenges for integration, but we believe these can be overcome. There are simple ways to ensure privacy, dignity, and mutual respect among all personnel, through structural, administrative and procedural methods. Modern fire halls present an ideal opportunity to “get it right” in terms of proper design that respects all occupants, and while there are challenges with older facilities, both short- and long-range planning should set out goals for any required improvements.
Women have different body structure, chemistry, and physiology than men, and like all unique differences between individual people, we believe that these differences should be respected and reflective of individual strengths, not weaknesses, in doing the job.
Differences can and should be addressed through proper fitting safety equipment and gear, as they are when dealing with individual size differences amongst male firefighters. Progressive uniform and equipment suppliers are now making these size ranges more available and affordable for fire departments.
There are many success stories and we believe that by sharing these, we can help fire services to proactively address issues that might otherwise deter capable and qualified women.
Removing barriers and bringing women’s employment to its full potential is a long-range plan. It involves shifting the underlying mindset from one of exclusion to one of inclusiveness. Inclusiveness means more than hiring women in greater numbers; it also means that women are treated equitably in how they are educated, welcomed, trained, assigned, retained, and promoted throughout their careers.
Are women mistreated or otherwise disadvantaged in the fire service?
The barriers that confront fire service women are the same ones that face any traditionally excluded group beginning to make inroads in a new workplace. These issues stem from the history and tradition of firefighting as a male endeavour, and from societal notions regarding men's and women's roles and perceived capabilities. Even with some bad experiences at early efforts at integration, we believe that enlightened leaders can and have made a difference in changing mindsets and successfully integrating capable and talented women into their ranks.
Does the physical requirement limit women from applying or being successful as firefighters?
To perform fire suppression and rescue duties safely and effectively, there is no doubt that firefighters need strength, stamina, and agility. A widely-held stereotype is that women are simply not strong enough to meet the job’s physical requirements, and consequently, that departments employing women must be endangering public safety by lowering physical standards. This assumption misapplies generalizations about the general population of women to the unusually fit group of women who are typical firefighter job applicants. In one U.S. study, 35% of survey respondents were active in gyms or sports before they became firefighters, about double the male rate; and pass rates for both men and women on physical abilities tests are strongly influenced by whether job candidates train prior to being tested.
What is FSWO doing to encourage the next generation of young women to consider fire service careers?
With the support of FSWO, fire departments and post-secondary institutions have launched successful programs to introduce young women to the fire service such as Camp FFIT and Girls in Gear. Please have a look at our Camp FFIT page to take stock of the various programs around the province. We believe these programs are having a measurable impact in influencing the career choices of those who participate.
Is FSWO solely focused on firefighters or all fire service related careers?
We are focused across the spectrum - career and volunteer firefighters, students and prospective students of fire service education programs, fire service and representative association leaders, those responsible for training/education/development of firefighters, as well as municipal and other decision-makers that have influence on fire service policies and directions.