Loading...

Women Firefighters: The Gender Boondoggle 

City Hall's dream of recruiting more females is a multimillion-dollar disaster

Wednesday, Jan 23 2008
Comments

The fresh-looking rookie firefighters, decked out in black hats, pants and shirts, pose by a hook-and-ladder truck, smiling broadly at a crowd of graduation-day guests. Firefighters pass out Cokes and nachos, and young girls rush giggling past the drill tower — a six-story concrete replica of an apartment building — to check out the sweatshirts for sale by the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Orly Olivier

(Click to enlarge)

click to flip through (5) ORLY OLIVIER
  • Orly Olivier
 

Related Stories

  • Behind the Scenes With a Political Consultant 8

    Michael Trujillo can't quite shake this cough. He's had it for weeks, picked up on the campaign trail. He needs to meet his mother in the Valley to get one of his old inhalers, which he places on his desk next to a laptop and a bottle of Advil. "There's...
  • City Hall Convict 2

    We really don't ask much of our City Hall leaders. Some have been drug abusers. Others philanderers. One small hoop they must jump through, however, is that they must live in the place they represent. That, apparently, was too heavy a requirement for former city Councilman Richard Alarcon, who today...
  • Deadly Beach Lightning

    A man in his 20s died after he was struck by lightning on the beach in Venice today, an L.A. County Department of Coroner's official said. The exact cause of death had yet to be determined, coroner's Capt. John Kades told us. The man was one of eight people hospitalized...
  • Earthquake! 2

    A 5.1 earthquake shook Southern California tonight. The temblor struck at 9:09 p.m. about one mile east of La Habra, where two other quakes, measuring 3.6 and 3.4 on the Richter scale, also hit during the 9 o'clock hour, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. The L.A. Fire Department .....
  • Villaraigosa's New Girlfriend, Kim Honig, Is 31 and Lives In New York 17

    Since leaving office in June, former L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been spending a lot of time in New York with his new girlfriend. Kim Honig, 31, is a Manhattan-based sales director for a financial software company. She and Villaraigosa, 61, have been dating for several months. "It's serious," says...

Orly Olivier

(Click to enlarge)

Hose envy: Hoisting heavy equipment gets the best of some trainees.

Orly Olivier

(Click to enlarge)

Wall of men: Three women hoped to graduate this day; all washed out.

With the national anthem booming, the celebration at Drill Academy 40 on Terminal Island takes on a circus quality. The huge fire-station door yawns open, revealing the rookies — now orderly and marching forth — trailed by theatrical "smoke." Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is a no-show, and so is Fire Chief Douglas Barry — off at a conference in Salt Lake City — so the grads are welcomed by Battalion Chief Emile Mack, who tells them the Los Angeles firefighter is an "American icon."

It is impossible not to notice that every one of the 42 rookies graduating on December 7 is male.

Three women were supposed to graduate. One was a 48-year-old grandmother — an emergency medical technician and former airport baggage handler who failed key physical tests just weeks into the fire-academy training. Another, a young former soccer player for Notre Dame, nearly made it through, but failed on drills to raise heavy wooden ladders against a building — as firefighters must do during a fire. The third was a tough former Air Force intelligence officer, terminated from the academy because she couldn't maintain the grueling pace.

Also read Christine Pelisek'sLawsuit Sweepstakes at LAFD.

What remains is a wall of men that typifies City Hall's two-decade effort, launched by long-departed city Fire Commissioner Ann Reiss Lane, and council members like Jackie Goldberg, who espoused the popular but untested view that fire departments should be 20 percent female. Women, it was widely held, were discriminatorily kept off the fire lines.

That sounded right. Women had been kept out of police work and were finally, in the 1990s, flooding into jobs as cops. Wasn't firefighting the same problem, with the same solution?

To prove its point, Los Angeles City Hall — just like Seattle, Miami, San Francisco, San Diego and other major cities, together with state governments — spent millions to recruit, train and house women. Los Angeles outfitted most of its 106 fire stations with costly women's lockers and women's showers, while politicians as well as fire chiefs Donald Manning and William Bamattre engaged in years of lip service, conjuring up an image of a new, professional class of woman firefighters.

Women came to figure prominently in the praise party on the LAFD's Web site, www.LAFD.org, where the Hero of the Month, for six months running — in a department of mostly men — has been Tamara Chick, a woman so key to the department's goals that she is now in charge of female recruitment.

There's just one problem, and it's a problem no fire chief, mayor or recruiter wants to admit. In a department of 3,940 people, the second largest municipal firefighting force in the U.S., the Weekly has learned that the women who work on the fire line could squeeze inside a Hummer limo.

Just 27 women are actually fighting Los Angeles fires.

The number is staggering in its shock value. In the 2006-2007 fiscal year, the department lured just four women — three of whom didn't make it. In this fiscal year, the Fire Department has managed to recruit eight women, two of whom have already washed out. Few of the eight will end up wearing the yellow helmet and jacket of a firefighter.

One of those who didn't make it was Angela Vesey, 33, a mother of two. As an Air Force intelligence officer, she worked with teams of all-male pilots in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — and is not accustomed to failing around men. "I have no doubt in my mind," she says. "I am going to be a firefighter."

But not anytime soon. She was terminated by her trainers halfway through the 17-week academy and looks upon the LAFD's requirements as "much more difficult" than her military training.

Another casualty was "Mary" — an extremely fit runner who washed out long before her graduation day. Like many fire trainees, she suffered an injury that healed slowly and decided not to repeat the arduous training.

Related Content

Now Trending

  • Venice Boardwalk Beat-Down Caught on Video

    A brutal beating next to the Venice boardwalk this week was captured on video (on the next page). Los Angeles Police Department detectives are asking for your help in tracking down not only the suspect, but the victim, who "we haven't been able to locate," Officer Nuria Venegas told us...
  • L.A. Porn Production Shuts Down Over HIV Report

    The adult video industry's trade group today called for a moratorium on production after a performer might have tested positive for HIV. The Los Angeles-based Free Speech Coalition said in a statement that one of the facilities used by porn stars under the industry's voluntary, twice-a-month STD testing protocol "reported...
  • Woman Fatally Struck by Vehicle at Burning Man

    A woman was fatally struck by a vehicle at Burning Man today, organizers said. The Pershing County Sheriff’s Office in Nevada identified the deceased as 29-year-old Alicia Louise Cipicchio of Jackson, Wyoming. Burning Man spokesman Jim Graham said she fell under a bus or "large vehicle" that was carrying participants early today. See...
Los Angeles Concert Tickets