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Wanted: A Few Good Women Firefighters For Boston's Male-Dominated Force

Boston firefighters pull down spme siding to uncover flames to extinguish at a fire at 142-144 Bunker Hill St in Charlestown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Boston firefighters pull down spme siding to uncover flames to extinguish at a fire at 142-144 Bunker Hill St in Charlestown. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
This article is more than 2 years old.

There are only 16 women — out of about 1,500 people overall — currently serving as active firefighters in the city of Boston. Mayor Marty Walsh wants to change that.

As part of his package of proposed state legislation for 2019, Walsh has included a provision that would establish a cadet program at the Boston Fire Department, aimed at recruiting more women to become firefighters.

The move comes after a review the city commissioned found that female firefighters in Boston are not always made welcome in the male-dominated force, and recommended the city take steps to make sure more women are hired.

The review followed complaints of harassment and discrimination by female firefighters.

"The lack of a critical mass of female firefighters results in a male dominated department," the report says. It adds: "[S]everal [women] noted they did not always feel as welcomed when detailed to houses that did not have a woman regularly assigned."

According to a press release from Walsh's office, the department has taken steps to improve conditions for the existing female firefighters, including installing exterior combination locks on the outside door of women's bathrooms; putting up 7-foot walls between bunks; and conducting "extensive" training about respectful workplaces.

The release says Walsh and Boston Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn are "committed to improving the workplace to ensure a culture of inclusion for all firefighters."

The legislation Walsh plans to file to establish a cadet program would formally implement existing support systems, especially focused on women and minorities interested in becoming officers and provide additional support for female firefighters.

Nationally, about 4 percent of firefighters are women.

The fire department's newest class, of 54 recruits, was sworn in last week. More than one-third are people of color and the one woman in the class is the department's first Asian-American female firefighter.

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