It will come as no surprise to women in the fire service but the number of female firefighters in the U.S. remains relatively low, according to the most recent U.S. Fire Department Profile from NFPA. The newest data was released today on the heels of a Los Angeles Times piece about that city’s fire department falling short on their 2020 female hiring goal; and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announcing that, for the first time in history, women have surpassed the number of men working in America.
The new NFPA report provides an overview of 29,705 local and municipal fire departments in the country; and estimates that in 2018, only 93,700, or eight percent, of the 1,115,000 firefighters in the United States were female. More specifically, 15,200 or four percent of career firefighters and 78,500 volunteer firefighters or 11 percent were women.
When you look at how these numbers stack up against other roles on the front line, the fire service still lags behind. Comparatively, 13 percent of police officers or detectives, 21 percent of paramedics or EMTs, and 20 percent of the U.S. military are females (20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army and almost eight percent of the Marine Corps).
There have been positive signs of progress lately, however, with women taking on lead roles and making historic strides in their communities. For example:
- Tonya Hoover was appointed in early February to the second highest fire position in the country - Deputy U.S. Fire Administrator. Hoover is the nation’s top female fire leader responsible for the training of more than 100,000 first responders annually via the National Fire Academy (NFA); the National Fire Incident Reporting System (NFIRS) which documents and analyzes 27 million fire department emergency responses a year; and USFA's fire prevention, public information and public education programs.
- Tiffany Green, from Prince George’s County, Maryland recently became chief of the largest combination career and volunteer fire department in the nation.
- Decatur, Georgia’s top three fire leadership positions are held by women.
- Fire shifts staffed completely by females are generating attention from the Bay Area of California to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to Brockton, Massachusetts.
After seeing the new report, Amy Hanifan, president of Women in Fire said, “Today’s fire service plays a critical role in protecting people and property from a myriad of challenges. That role is enhanced when we prioritize the hiring and promotion of diverse candidates, including female firefighters, to be reflective of our communities and the overall US labor pool. It is refreshing to see positive signs of change in the fire service, and promising that there is a desire to cultivate even more change in the future.”
Women in Fire is an organization of women and for women — but not for women alone. Members include male fire chiefs, union presidents, EEO officers and others seeking to make the fire service a professional place where women and men work together harmoniously.
For this report and other relevant NFPA research, visit nfpa.org.