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Fire departments working to address long-standing gender gap

Posted at 1:14 PM, Jul 02, 2021

In a profession dominated by men, the newest recruitment class at the Columbus Fire Department in Ohio is made up of its fair share of women, the culmination of a decade-long initiative to diversify the department.

Of the 52 people in this year’s recruitment class, eight are women. It’s the most the department has ever had.

And veteran firefighters like Elizabeth Finnegan could not be more excited to see a shift in demographics happening in her city’s fire halls.

“It’s one of those professions that’s passed on, but it’s usually passed down through men, fathers to sons. So, having females matters,” she explained.

As the fire department works to add more women to its staff, the staff has learned that visibility matters.

“Growing up, you aspire to be things you see, so if you don’t see a lot of females on the fire department, you don’t think it’s a job you can attain,” Finnegan added.

Of the 1,600 firefighters in the fire department, only 52 are women. It’s a statistic playing out in departments nationwide. Only about 4% of all firefighters across the country are female.

When Assistant Chief Tracy Smith became a firefighter in 1998, she was one of just three female recruits. The high number of women trainees this year is not an accident. Like others across the country, this department is proactively recruiting women to their ranks.

It is not uncommon for Smith to speak to female college athletes at Ohio State University, in hopes of opening their eyes to a life of public safety that they may not have thought of going into.

“There are more options. It shows you can do anything you want to do and that it doesn’t have to be streamlined and traditional,” Smith said.