Fire departments across the country are using various different tactics to recruit more females.
Efforts are happening at a boot camp in Boise, Idaho, a girl’s summer camp in Charlotte, North Carolina, to recruiting college athletes in Columbus, Ohio, and changing public perception in Lexington, Kentucky.
Fire departments across the country are doing various different events and recruitment strategies to get more women interested in careers in firefighting and EMS.
Longtime female leaders in fire service say it starts with department culture.
“I think that if an organizational culture is not inclusive or is not welcoming and open to everybody, that can make a really tough atmosphere for any outsider to come in,” noted Amy Hanifan, president of the organization Women in Fire.
Women in Fire was designed for inclusion and advocacy. It helps by providing specific training for women and mentorships, while also helping to change department policies.
Hanifan says the organization is also helping to develop best practices and recommendations for women that might become pregnant while working in fire service.
The McMinnville Fire Department in Oregon, where Hanifan is currently the operations chief, boasts about 20% female employment. Nationally, only about 5% of full-time firefighters are women. That’s much lower than other first responder careers and the military. Only about 10% of volunteer firefighters are women.
Hanifan noted that a diverse workforce makes for better public service.
The top federal fire position is held by a woman. Lori Moore-Merrell, Ph.D. was sworn in as the U.S. Fire Administrator in 2021. She said she rose through the ranks with only male mentors and that education made all the difference.
“The big thing for me, and I call it the great equalizer, was that I completed not only an undergraduate degree but a master’s and doctorate,” she said.
Moore-Merrell pointed out that the need for more firefighters is growing with climate change.
Both Moore-Merrell and Hanifan agree that camps, outreach and trade schools are effective ways to connect women to the industry.