Since women are now engaged in the firefighting job, certain policies and issues concerning their welfare and rights must be addressed such as: dealing with job discrimination and sexual harassment; firefighter marriages and fire department policy; firefighter reproductive safety issues; child care and parenting issues; hair and grooming standards; fire station facilities; promotion; and women firefighters and aging. (Berkman, Floren, Willing 9) Many cities and some states have laws or ordinances prohibiting discrimination due to sexual orientation.
Complaints may be filed against victim of discrimination and eventually filing a law suit is necessary to stop employers from illegal actions or behavior. In the fire service, the most common form of discrimination is the sexual harassment. Sexual harassment may exist in the illegal treatment in the hiring process, being denied in the application, preference points, irregularities in the testing process, and illegal questions in the job interview. It can be manifested verbally, visual, and physical in form.
Most of the times, women who are sexually harassed chose not to report their case because of the negative impression it might brought to their families and the damage it may bring to their morale. The thought of pursuing the matter will only make the matter worst, privacy will be invaded and personal lives will be affected, fear of retaliation, and fear of isolation and loss of friend or allies in the workplace contributes to the behavior of harassment victims not complaining. Sexual harassments still continue to exist in the fire services because fire departments are not able to undertake aggressive steps to stop it.
Policy guidelines should be defined and implemented by the fire department to guard against sex discrimination and sexual harassment. And even though policy guidelines exists nowadays like the “Manager’s Handbook on Women Firefighting”, the absence of complainants continuously reinforces the practice of sexual harassment in the fire service. (Berkman, etc 36) An approximate of 32% of women firefighters are married with other firefighters, whether being on the same department or not.
Some department usually employs an absolute laissez- faire attitude when dealing with firefighter’s marriages. Others employ an opposite approach implementing very strict policies on their employees. Some extreme cases prohibit marriages between employees or to other firefighters and could cause dismissal. Other department employs the anti-nepotism policies that impose restriction in the hiring of relatives. In this way firefighters are forced to lie about their relationship or even hide it. Though having relationship is a dynamic part of life, it cannot be avoided in the workplace.
Most important is that the real problem should be addressed in such a way that the policies will be directed with respect to the rights and privacy of an individual and at the same time maintains a healthy working environment. During the course of their work, female firefighters as well as the male ones faces health related workplace hazards in their reproductive health. In the case of the women the exposure to such hazard poses threat in conceiving a child or to safely carry a fetus inside her womb. Exposure to toxins may affect the development of the fetus and can cause birth defects.
Toxins can also be transferred to new born infants in terms of breastfeeding. In view of the male reproductive health there is a tendency that there will be impairment in the sperm production. To address this concern, fire departments usually develop safety policies with emphasis on the following matter: Reducing reproductive risk for employee who is pregnant, attempting to conceive a child, and or breastfeeding; providing adequate leave for the woman who just gave birth to a child; and providing adequate leave for new parents surrounding a new born baby.
Child care and parenting issues of firefighters is another concern that needs to be addressed. Child care problems may lead to cause absenteeism, poor morale, reduced productivity in the workplace, and loss of good employees. Since the schedule of work of a single or both firefighter parents requires long hours of stay some prefers to have their child brought up to child care institutions. Some fire departments give child care incentives to their employees to hire babysitters for their child, some made their department a conventional child care center, while others provide child care during off-duty sessions.