Ill-fitting equipment puts female LA County firefighters at risk, regulators say

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Ill-fitting equipment puts female LA County firefighters at risk, regulators say

Homepage News, LA Politics

Jaclyn Cosgrove

February 6, 2024

When a female Los Angeles County firefighter rushes into a burning building to save a life, she faces an additional challenge her male counterparts don’t face: her uniform.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, female firefighters and lifeguards explained to the board how ill-fitting uniforms designed for men restrict their movement, are heavier due to unnecessary material and leave holes that increase the risk of burns from flying embers or increase inhalation. smoke is known to cause cancer.

The supervisors responded by passing a motion, written by Supervisor Janice Hahn and Chairwoman Lindsey Horvath, demanding that the county fire department, in collaboration with the Women’s Fire League, develop a plan

in 60 days on how it plans to make women’s uniforms and personal protective equipment available to its female firefighters, paramedics and lifeguards. provide female firefighters, paramedics and lifeguards with uniforms and personal protective equipment tailored to them within 60 days.

The regulators will also send a letter to manufacturers demanding better options for female firefighters.

“It’s a safety issue for our women in the fire service, it’s also a safety issue for those who try to save them in a split second,” said Hahn, who donned a uniform before the meeting. “The fact that they have to pull up their pants or do something else to make a very simple movement I think has been a hindrance. … I want you to know that we have your back with five women on this board , and “We got your hips.”

The county fire department, one of the nation’s largest metropolitan emergency services, remains largely male and white, despite repeated calls from regulators and groups representing women firefighters and firefighters of color.

Of the approximately 3,000 firefighters, only about 80 are women.


according to agency data. That’s an increase from 45 in 2017, when Hahn and other supervisors expressed dissatisfaction with the department’s paltry numbers.

of female firefighters.

The lack of women, say female firefighters and industry leaders, has contributed to the lack of uniform options.

LA County Fire Chief Anthony Marrone said manufacturers have told him that either there is no template for female work pants, or if a manufacturer makes uniforms and personal protective equipment for female firefighters, they require fire departments to make them in a bulk purchase from $100,000 purchase.

“This is an issue of uniform and personal protective equipment inequality that we must address if we are to not only hire, but also retain and promote new firefighters,” Marrone said.

Battalion Chief Sara Rathbun, president of the LA County Women’s Fire League, said the department didn’t start seeing female firefighters until the 1980s. When she started in 2006, the department had about 20 female firefighters, Rathbun said.

Rathbun said the fire service as a whole is slowly changing because it is “very traditional.” “That tradition really carries itself forward and propels itself forward in beautiful ways that are profound and culturally rewarding,” Rathbun said. “And then there are other ways it’s not helping us, and we have to figure them out.”

Although Rathbun and her female colleagues have their uniforms measured, manufacturers take their measurements and apply them to a male pattern, meaning the inseam is often too long and a person’s hips and bust are not even taken into account.

LA County firefighters typically wear their station uniforms and then don their yellow gear over that uniform during building fires.

Neither layer is made for the female form, which means that female firefighters have multiple layers that restrict their movements as they jump off the dock on their way to boat fires, or climb through windows with limited mobility, or propel a hoseline while crossing the crawling to the floor of a burning building. because the air is too hot to stand on.

“For us women, we really need to focus more on our technique in everything we do, how you pull your pants, how you pull your ladders and if you have limitations, especially in the pants, it eliminates the ability to do the right technique sometimes,” says LA County firefighter/paramedic Siene Freeman, who serves as health and human services officer for the Women’s Fire League. “And then you run a greater risk of injury, you run a greater risk of not being able to do the work that needs to be done properly in the same amount of time.”

Danielle McMillon, department head of the LA County Lifeguard Department, said her uniform includes board shorts designed for men.

When the department recently purchased board shorts for women, they were only available in children’s sizes up to size 13.

“So whatever measurements they use to make these board shorts, they come out looking like a teenage girl,” McMillon said. “When I asked questions, I was told, ‘This is the industry standard for board shorts.’”

Even as more women enter the field, there has been little progress among manufacturers considering female firefighters when designing equipment, said Lynn M. Boorady, chief of design and merchandising at Oklahoma State University.

Boorady, who started researching technical gear in 1991, said in her research she found several companies offering only two inseams or sleeve lengths. Boorady said she was surprised to find that most companies make gear up to a size 7X, about a 64-inch waist, but few companies make gear smaller than a 12- to 32-inch waist. Because of these equipment and uniform issues, it is more common for female firefighters to sustain injuries, Boorady said.

“The biggest health problem in firefighters and firefighter deaths is heat stress, heat stress that can lead to strokes,” Boorady said. “So you’re already carrying something that’s extremely heavy in extremely high temperatures, and now it weighs more than it should because it’s too big. You’re working harder than the next person because what you’re wearing isn’t appropriate.”


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