CFFJAC Launches Women's Commission - 2005

A huge untapped resource of committed, educated, capable and passionate professionals stands at the doorway to the future of the fire service in California. The California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee is looking to open that door. This week, the CFFJAC unveiled a first-of-its-kind statewide recruitment campaign aimed at building a new generation of women firefighters.

The CFFJAC – co-sponsored by California Professional Firefighters and the State Fire Marshal – has formed the Commission to Recruit Women for the Fire Service. Convened for the first time last September, the Commission presented its agenda for the first time at the 8th Biennial CFFJAC Conference in Palm Springs.

“Our focus as a commission is on recruitment, retention and promotion,” said Contra Costa County Fire Captain Lisa Beaty – co-chair of the Commission. “We want to help women see firefighting as a career option and help departments looking to build a better, and more diverse, service for their customers.”

The 13-member panel – made up entirely of active women firefighters and fire chiefs – was formed around a seemingly obvious concept – the people best qualified to give advice on how to recruit women to firefighting are women firefighters themselves.

“It got a little old having gray haired white males deciding how to recruit more women firefighters,” said CFFJAC Chair Dan Terry. “We decided it was time to listen to the people who were actually on the job.”

The Commission’s initial focus will be on short-term recruiting of qualified female candidates – especially from the military. Roughly 14% of the country’s 1.4 million active duty military are women, and many have received training and experience that is directly applicable to a career in the fire service. The Commission has set about developing mechanisms to connect fire departments with discharged service women.

“The average age of women leaving the military is 23 to 24 years old,” said L.A. City Captain Cori Tipton. “They have already proven that they are trainable, dependable and willing to be part of a team.”

Beyond the initial recruitment efforts, the Commission is looking to re-invent the image of the fire service so that future generations … male and female … see firefighting as a career option that offers rewards as well as challenges.

“Many young women don’t even know that firefighting is an option,” said San Jose Fire Captain Mary Guttierez. “It is essential that young women see other women doing the job.”

As far as departments are concerned, the Commission plans to build a set of tools that can be used by departments large and small to help them in their outreach efforts. The Commission is also committed to helping departments understand not only how to recruit more women as firefighters, but also why it should be a priority.

“Diversity in the fire service is good customer service,” said Guttierez. “It also opens our profession to the huge untapped potential offered by new generations of talented, committed women professionals.”

The Commission’s work represents a central component of the CFFJAC’s core mission – build a more qualified, more diverse fire service to meet the challenges of the future. For many on the panel, the effort is truly a labor of love.

“When new recruits come into the station, we always ask them why they want to be firefighters,” said Davis Fire Captain Emily Lo. “I look forward to the day when they answer, ‘Because my mother was a firefighter … my aunt was a firefighter … my grandma was a firefighter.”

Click here to see a list of the members on the Women Commission.

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