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Ill-fitting gear endangers female firefighters, supervisors say

When a Los Angeles County female firefighter rushes into a burning building to save lives, she must deal with an additional challenge that male firefighters don't: uniforms.

At Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting, female firefighters and lifeguards told the board how ill-fitting uniforms designed for men restrict movement and are heavy with unnecessary material. He explained that there is an increased risk of burns due to gaps being created and embers flying in or being inhaled. Smoke is known to cause cancer.

Supervisors responded by passing a motion drafted by Superintendent Janice Hahn and Commissioner Lindsey Horvath that would require county fire departments to work with the Women's Firefighters Federation to increase the number of women firefighters, paramedics, and lifeguards. It called for a plan to be developed within 60 days to provide uniforms and personal protective equipment to the United States. equipment made to suit them.

Supervisor Janice Hahn and firefighters. “We're five women on this board. We've got your back, we've got your hips,” Hahn said.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Regulators also plan to write to manufacturers asking for better options for female firefighters.

“This is a safety issue for the women in the fire department, and it's a safety issue for the women who are working to make instantaneous rescues,” said Hahn, who tried on the uniform before the meeting. “I think it's hindered by the fact that they have to pull up their pants or do something else to do a very simple action. … Those of us on this board Five women want you to know that we have your back and we have your back.”

County fire departments, one of the nation's largest metropolitan emergency services agencies, are under-represented by male and white firefighters, despite repeated calls from supervisors and groups representing women and firefighters of color. The majority are still men.

Only about 80 of the roughly 3,000 firefighters are women, according to government data. This is an increase from 45 cases in 2017. Hahn and other supervisors He expressed disappointment with the ministry's meager numbers.

Female firefighters and industry leaders say the lack of women has led to a lack of uniform options.

Los Angeles County Fire Chief Anthony Malone has issued a $100,000 lump sum to the fire department if a manufacturer does not have a pattern for women's work pants or if a manufacturer makes uniforms or personal protective equipment for female firefighters. He said he was told he was requesting a purchase.

“This is an issue of inequity in uniforms and PPE that must be addressed as we move forward in not only recruiting, but retaining and promoting female firefighters,” Marrone said.

Battalion Chief Sarah Rathbun, president of the Los Angeles County Women's Firefighters Federation, said the department didn't start hiring female firefighters until the 1980s. Rathbun said when she started in 2006, the department had about 20 female firefighters.

Sarah Rathbun

Los Angeles County Fire Department Battalion Chief Sarah Rathbun (left) addresses supervisors at Tuesday's board meeting.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Mr Rathbun said the fire service as a whole was slow to change because it was “very traditional”.

“That tradition really carries on itself and promotes itself in a wonderful way that is deep and culturally valuable,” Rathbun said. “And there are other ways it doesn't help us, and we need to sort them out.”

Even though Rathbun and her female colleagues take measurements for their uniforms, manufacturers apply their measurements to men's patterns, so inseams are often too long and a person's hips and bust are not taken into account. not.

Firefighters in Los Angeles County typically wear their department uniforms and yellow turnout gear over their uniforms during structure fires.

Neither layer is made for a woman's body type. This means female firefighters have limited movement when jumping off a dock to fight a boat fire, climbing through a window with limited mobility, or advancing a hose line while crawling across the floor of a burning building. This means there are multiple layers. The air is so hot that I can't stand.

“For us women, we have to focus more on technique in everything we do, whether it's how to pull a hose or how to pull a ladder. Especially when you're restricted by your pants, you lose your ability to do that. Sometimes it takes the right technique,” ​​said Seane Freeman, a Los Angeles County firefighter and paramedic who serves as Health and Human Services Officer for the Women's Firefighters Federation. “This increases the risk of injury and increases the risk of not being able to perform the required tasks in the same manner in the same amount of time.”

Los Angeles County Lifeguard Division Chief Daniel McMillon said her uniform also includes board shorts designed for men.

Female firefighters present unique concerns about wearing personal protective equipment designed for men.

Female firefighters present unique concerns about wearing personal protective equipment designed for men.

(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

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

“So no matter what measurements you use to make these board shorts, you can still wear them like a teenage girl,” McMillon said. “When I asked questions, they said, 'This is the industry standard for board shorts.'”

Despite more women entering the field, manufacturers are doing little to consider female firefighters in the way they design equipment, said Lynn M. Booladi, director of design and merchandising at Oklahoma State University. He said there was no progress.

Bouradi, who began researching technical gear in 1991, said his research led him to notice that some companies only offered two different inseam or sleeve lengths.

Bouradi said he was surprised to find that while most companies make gear up to a size 7X with a waist size of about 64 inches, very few companies make gear smaller than 30 to 32 inch waist sizes. .

Bouradi said injuries to female firefighters are more common because of these equipment and uniform issues.

“The number one health issue for firefighters and firefighter deaths is heat stress, heat stress that can cause stroke,” Booladi said. “So you're wearing something that's already very heavy in very hot temperatures, and it's a size too big, making you heavier than you need to be. Because what you're wearing is inappropriate, you're wearing something else. They work harder than other people.”

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