The other day at work I witnessed something that has plagued my field for years. A call came in for a lady complaining of chest pain and shortness of breath. One of our ACLS EMT's was going to go on the call and we sent one of our EMT-B's up from Billings doing 911 ride a longs. Well the Advanced EMT needed a partner so I told one of our female EMT's to go with him, and as I did he bluntly stated that he wanted a male partner in case the patient was heavy. After stating that the female EMT partner would still go the other EMT refused to go on the call, delaying care for what could potentially be, a serious call. Luckily we had a paramedic on duty at the time who went in this EMT's place.
This to me is a shocking and yet common case in Firefighting, and EMS. We talk of the fire department being a boys club. I've heard firefighter's talking about women in the fire department will never be a common thing. There has been a major boom in the opposite direction though as more fire departments are hiring females to shatter this image. Even in volunteer departments this designation of it being a boy's club is starting to go by the way side. So why is it that even with the move towards more balanced fire departments does this problem of sexism come play over and over?
The simplest way of putting it is, tradition. Tradition is what holds a fire department together. The glue of the firehouse if you will. Long has the this been a boys club. Since it's earliest days in the United States the fire service has the fire department been staffed by men. This tradition, as with most traditions is slow changing. Listening to the older, experienced guys talk about how firefighting has been and always will be a man's game. The new firefighter, wanting to impress the older guys and learn the FD ways will take on this mentality. On tradition begets tradition.
How do we change this tradition? The simplest way to do it is to let the older firefighters believe in the boys club tradition, but not to let it change the new firefighter's mind frame. Welcoming everyone that can do the task and watch our backs shouldn't be discouraged. It should be our primary goal. So keep a positive outlook, welcome those who are willing to help, and don't let tradition of the wrong magnitude change your view on who is welcomed in the fire department. Doing that we can focus more on our customers.