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Into the Fire

Fire agencies have a burning desire to recruit females, with little luck

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Her biggest beefs are with ill-fitting equipment and clothes. The uniforms are made for men, which means the crotch in her turnouts sags and the jacket practically engulfs her.

Her other concern comes from fire station accommodations—something Doan has committed to fixing.

"When I first started, the fire house had a large dormitory with one bathroom and one big shower," Doan said.

"Some stations are still just a big dorm," Rosenbaum said. "There are curtains so you have privacy, but it's an open area and I know some men don't feel super comfortable having a female in the room. I'm sure my husband doesn't really love it either."

The fire bond that passed in November 2014 aims to fix the problem. All new stations are built with individual rooms and separate, gender-specific bathrooms. Older stations around town are being renovated to match.

"Most of it accommodates me," Rosenbaum said. "There's only one me."

That's something Rosenbaum would like to see change. She said she tries to recruit women all the time, but they don't see that they can do the job—a job Rosenbaum plans to retire from.

"I didn't grow up seeing women on a firetruck," she said. "There's not enough of me. I need more females."

Barriers

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While more women gravitate toward wildland firefighting, the challenges for women in the field go beyond strength and hard work.

Kate Leadbetter said she has observed a fundamental difference in the way men and women communicate, and she suspects not having the same confident swagger held her back from promotions.

Molly Leadbetter said most of the crews she's worked on haven't had a hint of sexism, but it's not unheard of among wildland firefighters.

"I think there's a lot of crews that are making really big strides in creating an environment that's healthy for everyone," Molly said. "Then there are some crews that are sliding backwards and stuck in the past. There's some crews where if you make one mistake—a mistake anyone would make—they judge you much more harshly."

Kate was hesitant to talk about gender barriers in her career, but Molly jumped in to put a fine point on the issue.

"[Kate has] had to work twice as hard to get an average amount of praise," Molly said. "If she was a guy working as hard as she was working, she would have gone a lot farther."

They both agreed that Kate should have been promoted to positions that work with chainsaws, which usually go to the largest, fittest men.

"She met every requirement that should have put her on saw and it didn't," Molly said. "Because they're like, 'You're just this little slip of a thing, you can't do it.' Instead it's like, 'No, we're going to get this big dude with a beard to do it.'"

"Even though he can't make it up the hill and I can," Kate added. "I've kicked those biggest, fittest dudes' asses."