Mayor Marty Walsh announced on Tuesday that he intends to create a new cadet program for the Boston Fire Department to recruit and train more women as part of his overall legislative package.
This announcement comes in the wake of a city-commissioned review of female firefighters in, which urged officials to increase the number of women on the department, and confront unaddressed or improperly handled instances of inappropriate behavior towards women in an “old boy network” rife with “locker room talk.”
The report revealed that “several [women] noted that they did not always feel as welcomed when detailed to houses that did not have a woman regularly assigned. Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn said in a press release, “There is nothing more important to me than the health, safety and well-being of Boston’s firefighters, which is why I’m proud of all the work we’ve been able to accomplish over the last several years.”
Walsh commissioned Stoneman, Chandler, and Miller law firm to conduct an external review examining the culture and environment for female firefighters at BFD following several instances of discrimination and sexual assault.
While the report showed that “most of the women stated that they loved their jobs and none expressed regret about deciding to become a firefighter,” there was a common theme of women on the force feeling uncomfortable and less welcome in fire-houses where they were not regularly assigned.
A firefighter told the Boston Globe that a male coworker once tried to have sex with her against her will while she slept at the station, and spent the night hiding in a locked bathroom in 2009. There were no disciplinary actions taken, and she claimed that few on the force believed her.
“This report makes clear that we have more work to do, and now more than ever I am committed to driving this needed change of embracing a culture of inclusion that will reach every corner of every firehouse,” Finn said in a statement.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, four percent of firefighters nationwide are females. By comparison, Boston currently has 16 female firefighters on a force of about 1,5000. Women in departments like Boston, which don’t use a dual role of fire department-based EMS response operations, make up about one percent of the workforce.
The 54 new recruits sworn in last week marked the most diverse class since 2003, consisting of seven Asians, seven Hispanic and six black recruits. At the same time, the class consisted of 53 males and one female (BFD’s first Asian American female). The first female firefighter joined the BFD in 1984, and only one has achieved the rank of captain. Just nine of the 33 firehouses in the city have a regularly assigned female firefighter.
“We’ve already made improvements within the past 6 months to several issues of concern to our female firefighters, such as updating the bathroom policy and addressing uniform issues,” BDF female liaison Firefighter Margaret Connolly said in a statement. “We have increased our recruitment and outreach efforts to female candidates, and will continue to do so. I am excited for this intentional focus on bringing more women to the force.”