Firefighters cannot perform optimally and many experience negative health impacts due to discrimination, harassment, and hostile work environments. Leaders and firefighters alike must be equipped to build, serve, and lead an inclusive, healthy, and diverse fire service. In addition, there is widespread confusion among women firefighters regarding when to limit or restrict firefighting duties when pregnant, as well as when it is appropriate to return to work after giving birth and there is a definite need for research and education specific to women FFs’ health and the unique, gender-specific impact of occupational exposures.
Through this grant, in partnership with Dr. Sara Jahnke and the Center for Fire, Rescue, and EMS Health Research, .tools will be developed and implemented to prevent and reduce injury, address discrimination and harassment, build resilience, and promote reproductive health and safety. The funds have been used for training and resources focused on the importance of inclusion, approaches to increasing it, and ways to support women in the fire service. We are working collaboratively to create tools for firefighters, fire departments, and physicians so all parties are able to make informed, data-driven decisions in regards to pregnancy and reproductive health.
The program is based on recent research that found women firefighters reported experiencing verbal (38%) and written (13%) harassment, hazing (17%), sexual advances (37%), and assaults (5%) on the job. More than 40% reported that they frequently felt that they worked twice as hard as others to get the same treatment or evaluation and that they were watched more closely than others. Firefighters who suffered the highest severity of workplace discrimination and harassment reported more poor health days and were more likely to sustain an injury than those reporting acceptance in their fire departments. Women who experienced moderate-severe discrimination and harassment had negative mental health outcomes (i.e., higher depressive, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms). The impacts of discrimination and harassment, as well as the scarcity of research examining health impacts of the job on women firefighters are critical.