The number of female firefighters across the United States has grown over the past years but remains far from representative of the 51% of the population made up by women, a data point that holds particularly true in Pittsburgh where a recent audit found less than 1% of city firefighters are women.
First responder professions — police, EMS professionals, and firefighters — have long struggled with gender representation that mirrors the country.
As of 2019, about 35% of EMTs and paramedics in the U.S. were women, according to research from the Journal of the American College of Emergency Physicians, up slightly from 31% in 2011. And in policing, about 13% of sworn law enforcement officers are women.
Firefighting seems to have struggled the most in terms of gender diversity among its ranks: across the country, women make up just 5% of all career firefighters and 11% of volunteer firefighters.
Out of Pittsburgh's 706 fire bureau employees, five are women — just under 1%, according to the audit of the Bureau of Fire by city controller Michael Lamb. Out of the three recruit classes that graduated in 2020, 2021 and 2022, only one woman graduated from the fire academy.
It's not a new problem in Pittsburgh. In 2019, the city contracted the National Testing Network to study the fire bureau's hiring practices and determine what barriers might be keeping women from applying to the bureau and, for those who do apply, from succeeding.
The city has made moves to try to address the disparity. In 2022, the fire bureau held its inaugural Girls Fire Camp with the goal of drawing more interest in the job.
"Firefighters engage with the community, so getting people from different backgrounds, genders and perspectives enhances our department's ability to better serve our community," Lisa Epps-Cuda, leader of the camp, said ahead of the inaugural session.
Among other activities, the girls took part in some of the physical tests that often trip up women trying to become firefighters.
Indeed, the physical exam was among the talking points in the audit.
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