Firefighters' Lawsuit Ruling Prompts Changes

By: Venton D. Blandin
By: Venton D. Blandin

April 3, 2006

A landmark decision in a federal appeals court has given female firefighters a big victory.

Women working as firefighters will now have an option of what to wear and where to sleep.

A discrimination lawsuit filed by two female firefighters in Missouri has brought on surprising changes for female firefighters everywhere.

"I think nationally it's a great move because there are still a lot problems out there. There is a lot of harassment that occurs from what I've heard from other departments throughout the country," said Captain Nicki Huff with the Albemarle County Fire Department.

One problem mentioned was that the gear firefighters wear to fight fires doesn't fit most women. Other problems outlined include the lack of privacy when it comes to sleeping, and using private facilities when inside the firehouse.

Captain Huff said it's not an issue with her.

"We've not had a problem with it in this area that I am aware or, but it's good for women in the fire service in general," added Captain Huff.

The problems are mostly attributed to older stations built several years ago.

"The fire service has changed tremendously over the last 50 years. What we are doing today--nobody would have thought we'd be doing [this] 50 years ago," said Chief Dan Eggleston of the Albemarle County Fire Department.

How do the changes affect our area?

"We have some stations that are 50 years old, and would have to be modified if we went to a 24-hour staffing in some of these stations. All of the new stations that we are planning, and have built up to this point have separate bunk rooms and bathrooms for females," added Chief Eggleston.

There's more than 100 women who work with the Albemarle County Fire Department which accounts for more than 20 percent. The ruling handed down in Saint Louis last week applies for every fire department across the country.

Many fire chiefs agree.

"The localities have to make sure that we are accommodating all applicants that we have, and all workers that we have, so I think it is a step forward in the right direction," added Chief Eggleston.

The Charlottesville Fire Department, which is much smaller than the Albemarle County Fire Department, has about 10 women working for them.

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