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The women fighting fire -- and gender inequality -- in the American wilderness

tagsBio Mulch Mat

From downhill helicopters to leading crews, these women are driving changes in the male-dominated forest service sector

Hannah Gross caught fire for the first time on a hot and dry Midsummer day in Utah. She is a brand new field firefighter in 2015, and she doesn't know where this task will take her and her crew when she and her crew approach the fire on the hillside.

Gross and her firefighters climbed into the helicopter and observed the burning situation from above. When they reached the top of the mountain and got out of the car, they were tied up with other workers who had dug a fire line near the flames. She heard the language she was still accustomed to: "We are calling the hotline!" "I need you to swamp for me!" "We are planning to burn it out!"

From that moment on, she was hooked.

Gross recently said: "That's just an epic entrance into the world of firefighting." She was leaning against Dixie National Forest in green Nomex pants, yellow Nomex shirt and platform leather boots. Gross is in its fifth year and is part of the "Hot People in Cedar City".

Usually the most suitable, well-trained firefighters, they will handle particularly complex tasks. Recently, she won a coveted permanent position in the crew team, which is the first step to a leadership position.

Gross is one of the growing number of female field firefighters. Now over

They gather together every summer (mainly in the western states) to defend national forests and public lands. In the past, in this male-dominated field, women faced inherent prejudice, sexism, and powerful gatekeepers who did not make them welcome. Today’s women still only wear makeup

-But many initiatives have been taken to increase the number of employed women, improve their leadership skills, and increase their confidence in the operation of the field.

According to the National Forest Foundation, the first time women fought wildfires was

At that time, the wife of the forest attendant helped their husband put out the fire in the Mendocino National Forest in California. The first all-female staff were established in California in 1942 and Montana in the 1970s, when they were deployed during World War II and Vietnam. But until the 1980s, female firefighters were nothing more than an anomaly.

In 1979, after a female sociologist was denied employment because the recruitment supervisor was waiting for a male candidate, she sued the Forest Service Department for gender discrimination. As a result, two years later,

Agreed to a consent order committed to giving women equal opportunities for work in institutions, including firefighting.

Thanks in large part to the women who were first hired as hot cross-department staff in the 1970s and 1980s, women are now appearing in all aspects of the world of wildfires. They are designated firefighting experts who are responsible for planning complex fires to keep the forest healthy; the first type of emergency commander is responsible for managing thousands of the most complex and dangerous fire teams; the indispensable crew and aircraft Long supervisor.

Shawna Legarza is one of the most famous examples of this kind of climbing. She entered the wildfire world in 1989, when women were often avoided or accepted symbolically. Legarza comes from what she calls a "little countryman ranch," where hard work has become the norm, so she faces early challenges. In 1991, while trying to attract a group of enthusiastic workers, Legarza called one staff after another from public telephones in downtown Las Vegas. "I would say'Hey, I want to be your crew!" One of them said, "We don't hire women." I was like "Okay."

! I thought,'You don't want to hire me, man, your loss,'" Legaza recalled.

Hot work period in Montenegro, Nevada

That season, she remembered the newsgroups rushing in. She doesn't understand their charm: she and men do the same job, so why do they care about her gender? She will know later

The job requiring equal job opportunities expired that year, and the reporter wanted to know whether firefighters would continue to hire women. They did this, thanks in part to the perseverance of women like Legarza, who kept coming back.

Over time, Legarza was promoted to one of the most important jobs in the forestry department: Chief of the Fire and Aviation Bureau. After decades of leadership on the fire line, she assumed this position, followed by Director Hotshot, Forest Fire Management Officer, and Fire Director of San Bernardino National Forest Park. She retired in June and the institution left behind has thousands of women than the institution when it was first established.

Today, most young women in the fire hope that the gap between men and women will continue to decrease. "For years, it was like'hi, guys', but the distinction is gradually disappearing. We are all firefighters," Rita, a 12-year firefighter with a helicopter sling crew in McCall, Idaho · Krantz (Rita Krantz) said. "I am very happy to continue to reduce separation. It eliminates the stigma."

Krantz is a lifelong sports enthusiast and outdoor sports enthusiast. He was fired due to physical challenges and summer work before going to university, but never left. She said: "When I want to apply for a federal job, people tell me,'Oh, of course you will be hired, you are a girl.'...I don't want to be hired for that."

After spending seven years as a contract worker, she transferred to the basket staff of the Forest Service, slid a 250-foot rope from the helicopter and fired at the top of the inaccessible mountain ridge. From the lowlands of Florida to the high deserts of Utah and the Washington Mountains, fires across the country made Krantz feel a sense of purpose and community. In 2018, she won the permanent leadership position of the crew.

Krantz can surpass most of the crew, he said men and women do the same work on the production line. She said, but women may not have that self-confidence, which may affect their chances of being promoted to leadership positions: "One of the things our society has for women is to make us less confident and question ourselves."

Enhancing women’s leadership is the goal of an initiative called "National Inter-agency Designated Fire Training Center" (PFTC). PFTC, based in Florida, brought a small group of firefighters to the southern and eastern United States during the winter for controlled burns and began pre-planned fires for protection reasons. A cohort in the training is dedicated to helping women become strong, decisive leaders.

The 2020 PFTC Women's Conference is chaired by Deb Flowers. As a site coordinator, she liaises with the local fire department to determine where to burn, teaches and guides young women in meetings, and determines ways they can improve and strive to qualify. In more than 20 years of working on fires, Flowers has encountered many challenges.

"In some cases, fire is a competitive job...Sometimes, I feel that for women, no matter what we internalize or the environment we live in may have an impact, you need to Start from below," Flowers said after a day of burning in Florida. .

"For me, I feel very lucky for the supervisors I have served and the people I know who have helped me in my career. Sometimes people don’t want you to be there, they Challenge you, and challenge you more than others, because you are a female." Flowers said. "Such a thing will make you take a step back and ask: Why should I do this? Well, because I like it, I can't let that one percent affect the work I like."

In March, PFTC women went to the Campland Joint Training Center, a military base in north-central Florida. The women gathered for a morning briefing, browsed the map of the area to be burned, and were assigned the following roles: burn boss and trainee, shooting boss and trainee. They also delegated who will use the refueling torch to light the fire, and who will monitor the edge of the fire to ensure that the line of fire is not crossed. As the sun rises to its highest peak, the fire burns faster and faster. By the end of the day, the humidity level started to rise and the combustion target had been reached.

Then, these women gathered around the circle to prepare a "post-action report", using different roles to praise each other and constructively criticize. Unfortunately, due to the spread of the coronavirus, this meeting was forced to be shortened. Therefore, two days later, these women returned to their home forests, ready to implement the leadership strategies they learned.

Almost all women on the PTFC agree that the fire is more a call than a job. Throughout the summer, and even during the winter months, they stay away from friends and family. But for Erika Davalos, one of the women of the PTFC, it was worth it.

She said: "Meeting with these girls strengthened my idea of ​​doing things. It reminded me well of what I'm doing here because I love to do our job."

Gross graduated from another initiative designed to set women on fire, women in the "Wild Fire Training Camp".

For women who are completely unfamiliar with the field. When one of the first female figures, Bequi Livingston, founded the program in 2012, women accounted for only 5%

the power of. Since then, the proportion of women in the military has more than doubled.

How will firefighters change when women and men work equally? Gross said that she spent a while thinking about this issue, "I finally brought it to the crew. Everyone agreed that women bring a completely different perspective to our profession. The crew dynamics are completely different. There is better cohesion. And the overall attitude.” In addition, the crew suggested that their lesbians “are not as easily targeted as men when dealing with tasks,” and “tend to better maintain a large field of vision,” Gross said.

When returning to Dixie National Forest in Utah, Gross and the other staff re-adapted after lunch: twist their legs, fill the chainsaw with gasoline and gasoline, and take another sip water. Gross raised the saw by her shoulders, walked with the firefighters, strode forward along the road, and men and women were on the same road to perform the same tasks.

After cutting down trees for an afternoon, Gross reflected on what made her set on fire: "Working with these people creates a special motivation that I don't feel anywhere else."

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