While searching for a photo for this post, I found Kari Greer’s fire photo website here. This site is worth checking out, as there are many amazing and wonderful fire photos.
I’ve been behind on my blog duties, partially due to discovering that backups of my computer stuff did not automatically include bookmarks from Chrome. Lesson learned. Anyway, here goes…
This is a piece from High Country News by Lorena Williams a writer and firefighter out of Durango, Colorado.
“It is such a hostile environment,” said journalist Judy Woodruff, discussing the PBS investigation. “Why do these women go into the Forest Service in the first place?”
I am one of these women, and here is my answer: The culture of firefighting is not an inherently “hostile environment.” For every coworker that has excluded me from the “boys’ club,” 10 others have made me feel welcome and safe in a professional work environment. I have faith in these good people to change a culture that has historically enabled sexual assault and retaliation. If we do not act as harbingers of change, we are by default complicit in the problem.
The victims interviewed for the PBS investigation are just a fraction of those who remain fearfully silent or have moved on from the agency. I have little doubt of their credibility. I have never been assaulted, fortunately, but I have experienced and also witnessed harassment and discrimination. In my view, it stems from the perspective that women are, and should remain, outsiders in the industry.
I was told three years ago during a friendly conversation with a male coworker that I was only hired because I was female. It wasn’t true, but it illustrated what I fear most about this transition in our field: Women are often seen as intruders, as tokens who were only hired to meet some kind of quota. We are treated as pariahs in our professional fields, regarded as little more than sexual-harassment cases waiting to happen.
This sentiment — that working with women is playing with fire — has been hinted at by many of my colleagues throughout the years. Male firefighters at all levels feel hamstrung, suddenly censored, in what is a naturally high-risk, adrenaline-filled career that at times warrants aggressive command presence. In expressing their concerns, however, some male firefighters imply that simply maintaining an appropriate workplace environment is so difficult and out of the ordinary that it cannot possibly be done. And so, they say, they fear for their jobs.
It’s true that certain aspects of this job inherently challenge political correctness. We work in the woods, sleep on the ground, relate to each other through bathroom humor, teasing and goading. Spending an entire summer, day and night, with the same people means that professionalism inevitably slips into casual camaraderie. This is how we cope, how we bond and thrive. This gray area, where our professional lives become personal, is both rewarding and dangerous — prime territory for interpersonal chaos. But firefighter culture has to try to enter the 21st century; it can no longer hide fearfully behind patriarchal tradition. Times have changed, and fire culture needs to catch up.