Bridging divides by avoiding each other?

The fire service in the Houston metro area is about to receive an influx of female applicants.  That’s fine with me; I will state unequivocally that I support women’s rights in the fire service.  What’s not fine is why, all of a sudden, a lot more women will be applying for fire jobs.  It seems that Houston Community College, responding to controversy over alleged sexual harassment at the Houston Fire Department, will be running an all-female fire academy this fall.  Word on the street (stressing that this is UNCONFIRMED) is that all the instructors will be females as well.

I’m no law talkin’ guy, and I am a big white guy, but this causes my eyebrows to arch villainously in perplexity.  Can a state organ discriminate this way?  Smart money says the courts will weigh in on the matter before it’s all over with.

What I am is a fire officer and my chief concern here, the one with which I am familiar, is the imperative to bring people together into a cohesive small unit.  Unity of purpose, mutual support, and familiarity to the point of prediction are important to company effectiveness and efficiency.  Part of the point of an academy is to strip away or soften pretensions and pridefulness, self-definition and legacy identities, so that when a cadet becomes a probie, he or she is ready to learn and mesh.  A females-only academy class does less per se to strip away that self-definition than would an integrated class.  This will make that more difficult, or at least delayed, because these cadets will likely never be on an all-female crew.  It will disrupt that normal and useful process because the first few months of intensive introduction to the fire service (a very formative time) will be defined by maintaining identities other than “junior member.”

Perhaps a more sinister, and long-term, effect will enter into play as a result of this effort.  How are women to win over men,  most of whom are probably on the fence about female presence in the firehouse, if they embark on a distinct and blatantly separate path from the outset?

Women are in the fire service to stay.  Exigencies of safety, effectiveness, efficiency, ethics, and honor all compel us to make sure ALL junior members are wholly integrated to our companies.  Even men of goodwill and open minds will find that more difficult because of this setback, encountered unknowingly, so early in so many careers.

Academy director’s letter introducing the females-only class
Recruitment brochure

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This entry was posted in Leadership, The Times They Are a-Changin, Training Officer, WTF. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Bridging divides by avoiding each other?

  1. Know Nothing Gordo says:

    Patrick,

    I recall the city of Detroit running some single sex schools a few years back, and I believe they stood up in the courts. In that case the city offered programs for both male and female students, it doesn’t sound like this is the case in this situation.

    While I can accept the idea that some 100lb 12 year old girl might be intimidated by the 6 foot 160lb 12 year old boy, I do feel uncomfortable with the idea that an adult woman that is choosing a career in an industry primarily staffed with men would be intimidated by men in the classroom.

    I’m hoping that the idea behind the class is to allow the female students to work on the needed upper body strength and to allow the female instructors to share their knowledge and mistakes made in a more open an honest environment.

  2. Patrick says:

    You have a good point about making mistakes in an open and honest environment. I understand that need but it makes me wonder if they’re just delaying the inevitable. Maybe it would give them the self-confidence to stand up to the negativity when it comes later.

    I don’t know how this will be scheduled in relation to the regular classes, and I wonder if the regular classes will still have women enrolled.

    As for the upper body strength, some of the promos say they’ll be doing special or tailored PT so I assume that means upper body.

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