TRIAL BY FIRE: Firefighting Test Debate

When the worst happens, they go to work.  It’s dangerous and difficult.

“It`s hard work – very physically demanding,” says Captain Linda Frangenberg.  She’s one of 14 women on the Des Moines Fire Department.

“I was the fourth female to be hired.”

The test she took in 1989 was different from the one used today, but it was the same one the men took and she says she’s glad.

“Because the tasks we`re assigned are the same tasks.  You know, the community is counting on you.  Citizens expect us to be fit and able to take care of them.”

Karla Hogrefe agrees.  “When you`re doing the actual job it`s not going to be different if you`re a woman or man.”

Only three women have passed the Urbandale Fire Department’s test.  Hogrefe is one of them.

“Yeah, I just pushed through the end and fell over the line.”

But the first time Hogrefe took this test, she failed.

When asked if it was physical strength, desire or mental toughness that made the difference she says it’s a combination of all three.”

“I`m in better shape right now.  I want a career.  I`m determined.  So I think it`s all there right now.”

That combination is paying off.  Hogrefe now works for three metro fire departments.

“People come to the test with different abilities and a great deal of their success is their desire,” says Frangenberg.

Mary Davis, the first woman hired by the Des Moines Fire Department paved the way for women like Frangenberg and Hogrefe.

“God blessed me with a strong body,” says Davis.  She also has strong opinions about men and women taking the same physical agility test.  “Because they don’t do a different job.”

People have been debating the standards and whether they should be based on gender for decades

“Not everybody’s cut out or made to go in and fight fires,” says former State Fire Marshall, Ray Reynolds.  In an interview in September, Reynolds said he’s a proponent of two different tests.

“I spent 22 years in the military and there is a different standard in physical fitness in the military… a difference between female and male.”

The different standards may be the reason women make up 14-percent of active duty military and account for just 4-percent of fire departments nationwide.  And the military isn’t alone.  Most law enforcement agencies use the “Cooper Test.”  It has different standards not only for gender, but also for age.

“I say firefighting is a team sport,” says Reynolds.  That’s another reason for his opinion.  A firefighter never responds to a fire alone.

“You`re not going to have one female firefighter or one male firefighter trying to rescue that person.  You`re going to have the entire department trying to pull that person out.”

But when Reynolds stated his opinion publicly, he heard from female firefighters all over the country – all of them voicing support for equal testing.

His own daughter, Kaylin Reynolds took the same test as her male counterparts and now works for the Indianola Fire Department.

“Do I worry?  I absolutely worry because it’s a dangerous job,” says Reynolds.  “Did I want my daughter on the department – no, not at all.  There’s this, if she’s not on the fire department she’s safe sort of mentality.”

Because they go to work when the worst happens, and when they’re in their gear gender disappears.

“But the other side of this is that I`ve been a firefighter for 26 years and if it was good enough for me, why wouldn`t it be good enough for my daughter?”

The official statement from the Fire Marshal’s office is that it does not dictate the standards for testing or hiring candidates.

 

 

5 comments

  • Katelen Farmer

    YES!! I’ve been a career firefighter for almost 8 years. When men and women preform the same job, under the same circumstances, for the same pay then yes we are equal all across the board. We get respected because pull our weight. If we cannot do the job at the same standard as men then we do not belong in the fire service. People who can’t do the job, regardless of sex, should not be in this career.

  • Hannah

    Yes. B/c honestly if you just get in good shape you’ll pass then just fine. I’m 115lbs and 5’7 and it had zero issues with any department test for hire. Now, I work for a major city dept and have no issues. The difference is that the military is far more physical than the FD and the testing they require are things that women usually aren’t capable of doing. The tests they have to pass are still far more strenuous than any FD test anyone will ever take. Also, look at the statistics done on firefighting and obesity; you’ll be disgusted. But, they still pass the tests. If they can then I say 95% of females can. It’s a mental thing and keeping physically fit. If you say you can’t, then you won’t.

  • Lou Ann Metz

    I have been a career firefighter for 29 years and took the same test as the men to get my job. I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was hard, but so is firefighting. I think that affirmative action is a crutch for many women and minorities trying to get into this career. This is not a job for crutches, it is about saving people’s lives and property. We need to be the best at what we do…no matter what race or gender we are.

  • bob launius

    women barley pass agility teats when they are at the height of their physical ability. Across america tests have been lowered so departments can have there politically correct fashion show. When they are sitting at a desk because they can not do the job nor ever make it 30 years without being at a desk for 25 is a crime.
    I just finished 31 years working in LA and no women can do the job for longer than a few years. Would you buy a car that will only last 3 months???

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