SPECIAL REPORT: Fire departments strive to close gender gap in the fire service


NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (KFTA) — Male-dominated professions like the fire service continue to face a significant gender gap. Though many departments started hiring women decades ago, it’s still rare to find more than one woman at a department.

Andrea Anzalone, a firefighter at the Rogers Fire Department, graduated from the fire academy in 2019. She was the only woman in her class of recruits.

“I think what I couldn’t do is just blend in,” she said. “The assumption that you’re going to fail is not there. But, really, they just haven’t seen very many females actually perform any of these tasks.”

Having just one female recruit in a class is not uncommon. Fire departments across the country are struggling with low recruitment rates.

“It’s certainly an occupation that historically has lent itself to being seen as all-male,” said Tom Jenkins, Fire Chief at Rogers Fire Department. “You pick up children’s books, you hear the term fireman and certainly if you were a young lady, even if you were predisposed to having interest in it, it would be easy to be discouraged or not even realize that it’s an occupation that is open to females.”

Jenkins has seen the number of women firefighters triple under his leadership.

“They are not token female firefighters,” he said. “They are really good firefighters. And, they are really good by any measure. Not just against each other and their gender, but they are really good, because they are really good.”

In order to include more women, Jenkins said departments must develop strategies that appeal to recruits. He said much of that comes down to promoting visibility.

“We are going to start with terminology,” he said. “Even policies here, they have gender-neutral language, so we don’t start by indicating this is a man’s environment and that the female firefighters are our guests. We want to show them that we are welcoming to all people that have a heart to serve and a desire to make a difference.”

It’s also about encouraging women to see the fire service as a career option.

“We have to showcase that we have female firefighters. That it’s okay for little girls to want to be firefighters too. It’s very appropriate that they want to do that job.”

As professions across the board strive for gender equality, the fire service does not intend to be left behind.

“It’s not to say that as a profession, we don’t have some things to learn and some things to hone to make it a little bit better, but step one is being interested and making it better,” Jenkins said.

You can learn more about the Rogers Fire Department here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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