EMS World

NOV 2018

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EMSWORLD.com | NOVEMBER 2018 21 F ive female paramedics sued the Chicago Fire Department in May, citing unwanted sexual conduct and contact from their superiors. 1 In Houston it's the Justice Department, which filed against the city in February, alleging sex-based discrimination against a pair of female firefighters. 2 In San Bruno, Calif., it's a male firefighter targeted for homophobic abuse. 3 A quick scan for other jurisdictions where emergency services face lawsuits or other claims in 2018 involving sexual harassment, discrimination, or misconduct turns up San Diego; Port Orchard, Wash.; Fenton Town- ship, Mich.; Rifle, Colo; Galloway Township, N.J.; and—more than two years after such misanthropy may have helped fuel the sui- cide of firefighter paramedic Nicole Mitten- dorff—Fairfax County, Va. 4–9 It isn't exhaustive, but that list is exhaust- ing. It's been more than 50 years since the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination based on sex among other attributes, yet discriminator y and harassing behavior persists in the fabric of many emergency services. "It starts with the fact that there are still many fire departments that don't have women on the job," says Cheryl Horvath, chief of Arizona's Tubac Fire District and past president of the International Asso- ciation of Women in Fire & Emergency Ser- vices. "The fact that we're still celebrating the first woman in so many of these depart- ments tells you we have a long way to go in that regard." Women today comprise only about 4% of the fire service. 10 That there are so few means few have advanced to leadership positions—Horvath is one of only about 50 female fire chiefs in the U.S. 11 That's meant a long, slow process of lobbying for change, as opposed to implementing it directly, in a field built for the less-fair sex. "The fire service in general hasn't done enough to make our work environment open to women," says Cur t Varone, a longtime firefighter, attorney, and author in Rhode Island who covers the topic at his Fire Law Blog. "Our equipment, our strat- egies, our staffing levels are all premised upon the strength of a strong man, and we've not made an effort to change that. We just put women into the environment and assume they'll meet the requirements. And there's a message there I think fire- fighters hear: that you have to find a way to get the job done, but you're not getting any more resources, and the equipment's not going to be configured for a woman to operate." Change is hard, harder when your cul- ture is highly fraternal and insular. Change threatens established orders—not only how "the guys" may do their jobs, but how they may talk, behave, or even walk around dressed in the firehouse. (We talk largely about fire departments here because so many of the highest-profile sexual harass- ment cases have involved them, but nonfire EMS services are hardly immune, as other recent cases show. 12–14 ) Living in proximity and facing intense situations together creates tight bonds that don't always open easily to outsid- ers—especially with any perception they're not fully up to a dangerous, demanding job. (Note, the same clannish mechanisms can drive hostility to other minorities.) "What's happened is that the discrimi- nation against women and people of color and those sorts of things has been sort of below the radar," says John K. Murphy, prin- cipal of the Washington-based Murphy Law Group, an attorney with more than three decades of fire and EMS experience. "The people who are the targets either just gut it out and don't say anything or quietly leave. But I think as generations have changed and there's more emphasis on equality and finally realizing the tenets of the Civil Rights Act, more people who have been harassed are willing to speak up and report it." Certainly, within EMS and across soci- ety, many recent purveyors of abject sexual misconduct have been held to account. But others evade reckoning, and the problem remains large. For many women (or men) facing the daunting challenge of standing against an entire organizational power structure to stop abuse, it can still feel like a stacked deck. "I have people tell me it's getting better," says Horvath. "Male chiefs will say, 'We're doing so much better, but just wait!' And I'm like, 'What are we waiting for?! We've been here for almost 50 years. What epiphany is going to occur that shouldn't have already occurred?'" Paid to Go Away "Why don't they just speak up? Hit back? Quit and go somewhere else? Stop being a victim?" To such glib questions, Amie Morningstar has some insight. The first full-time female firefighter in her hometown of Circleville, Ohio, Morningstar faced a ludicrous litany of on-the-job malice for over a decade that ranged from juvenile (someone urinated in her shampoo) to life-threatening (the sabotage of her facemask). In August she won a $3.35 million judgment for it. "I grew up in Circleville," Morningstar says. "My father was terminally ill, my mom battled seizures, and my oldest son has a heart condition. Taking care of them was a huge part of my identity and life. So I realized that if I became a paramedic and firefighter in my community, it would let me not only provide financially for my fam- ily but also always be there if something happened. For me Circleville was my only option—serving my community and family and friends meant so much to me." What she got for that was nearly every tawdry form of abuse imaginable. Morningstar began volunteering for Circleville EMS in 2001; it merged with the Circleville Fire Department soon after. She earned her fire certification in 2003 and when the departments merged applied to be a volunteer firefighter. Suddenly volun- teer applicants had to pass a physical test they didn't before. Morningstar passed the test and became a volunteer but wasn't given gear, so she couldn't go on runs. She didn't get her gear for four years. During this time she applied to be a full-time firefighter-paramedic with CFD but was passed over for a male with no certifications. She reapplied in 2007, only to see the required agility test made more difficult. When she passed it any- way, a captain said, "It looks like it's time to make this test harder," and wrote in a report, "Unfortunately, it is time to allow a female into the department." 15 Morningstar wa s hired but given a 90-day probationar y period; for men it was 30. Then the gear theft and tamper-

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