Friday, March 5News For London

The world of female firefighters: Burning gender bias

How easy is it to be a female firefighter in the UK, or how difficult? Reporter Indraja Gugle explores the world of female firefighters on International Women’s Day     Sub-editor: Hussein Abdel Fattah

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The sight of a smoked up kitchen or sparks around an electric gadget is enough to send us to panic-ville. But there are women out there fighting raging fires several feet high.

It is not a task for the faint-hearted. Traditionally a male-dominated field, the UK is seeing a rise in the number of female firefighters. At 1.7% in 2002, the number has reached to 4.3% in 2012. However, in addition to risking their lives regularly, women in this field face various challenges, simply because they are women.

Lucy Masoud, who holds a degree in politics and has done her Masters in law, has been a firefighter since she was 29. She shares her stories from the workplace and how the UK fire brigade needs to be more accommodating of female firefighters.

Q: When and how did you decide to become a firefighter? Did you face opposition from your family upon this decision?

I decided when I was quite young that I wanted to become a firefighter but put it off until I turned 29. By then I had been able to study degree and masters as well as travel.

My family was very supportive. Of course they worry for my safety but they understand that my job makes me happy.

Q:Which was the most challenging rescue operation for you? 

Fires are not really challenging for me, it’s more the emotional side that can sometimes hit you. Actually the most challenging thing I have faced wasn’t a rescue. It was a man who had crashed on his motor bike and died in front of us. His brother was there watching at the same time and it was difficult to watch as it was a very sad situation but it is part of the job.

Q:It is still a predominantly masculine field. Did you or your female colleagues ever face harassment or discrimination on the grounds of being a woman? How did you deal with it?

Yes, my job is still predominately male. I think there are only around 300 female firefighters in London out of about 5000. I’ve never had too much of a problem but people know that if they tried to bully me I would bully back. I’m not a walk over and I am always happy to challenge people if I think they are being discriminatory.

Lucy Masoud on one of her travels to Shanghai, China.
Lucy Masoud on one of her travels to Shanghai, China.

Q:What are the day-to-day challenges of a female firefighter? Do you think enough is being done to make this noble profession more inclusive of women? 

The day to day issues are that often some fire stations don’t have enough female facilities for them i.e. beds and washrooms.

Also there is no maternity wear for pregnant firefighters. I know one firefighter who had to just unbutton her trousers as they no longer fit her.

There is always more that needs to be done to encourage more women. Even on TV you see firefighters called ‘fire men’ rather than ‘firefighters’.

The job needs to cater for women better i.e. maternity wear, female facilities on station and also they need to break down the image that it is a masculine job.

It is not a masculine job. It is a job that requires physical and mental strength as well as the desire to help people. All these elements both males and females have.

Q: How do you think women firefighters bring a difference to fire safety? 

Perhaps women feel more comfortable speaking to other females. Especially females from other cultures may feel more comfortable to address a female firefighter.

Q:I’m sure many people are amazed when you mention you’re a firefighter. Have you ever been asked if you were afraid of fire?

Many people ask about the job and if I get scared. I just tell them that I am trained at what I do therefore confident when dealing with fire.

I am scared of heights however but still push myself to climb ladders when I have to.

Q: Lastly, how easy or difficult is it for girls who aspire to become firefighters? A word of advice for them?

Women can do anything they want if they put their mind to it. They can certainly do the job as a firefighter just as well as a man.

You just need to be determined and want to help people. Fitness is important but not the be all and end all. Also don’t let people put you off.

Some will say it’s not a job for women or they will be bullied etc. Ignore this. Being a firefighter is an excellent job for women and the fire brigade is lucky to have us.