Women accepted in Spanish fire service

Bobby Halton’s “We Have a Seat for Everyone at the Table” (Editor’s Opinion, February 2010) made me look immediately for the keyboard. I doubt that U.S. males are any more “macho” than Spanish males. Spaniards have a centuries’ old tradition of being more macho than any other males on the face of the planet. This “macho-hispano- celtiberico” (historical ascendancy of Spaniards over some 4,000 years) hasn’t been a great obstacle to the incorporation of women into the Spanish fire service, although it hasn’t made the road any smoother, either.

Today, there are dozens of women in departments all over the country. The chief of operations of the country’s fifth largest municipal department, Valencia, is a woman. Bilbao and the Madrid regional departments have women in senior command positions. The pioneer female firefighter entered the Palma de Mallorca city brigade some 30 years ago. She suffered the typical harassments for some time until she was the only firefighter able to access trapped victims in two serious residential fires and got them out to safety and survival. From that time onward, and except for isolated “old-timers’” remarks, she has been fully accepted as an equal by her several hundred companions. It should not require heroic acts to be accepted.

The former chief who continues to harass the woman he forced out has no business being a commander, as his brain appears to be situated somewhere just below his beltline and spine.

George Potter
Fire Protection Specialist

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Bobby Halton’s Editor’s Opinion in the February 2010 issue really hit home for me. The department with which I started my career did not have any female firefighters initially, but that changed a few years later. A few women took our entrance exam, but only one passed all portions of the test; soon after, she was hired. Prior to her arrival, all members were required to attend sexual harassment training and diversity training. This bothered many members, including me. I come from an old-school firefighting family where we believed that women don’t belong in the fire service. I didn’t think she belonged on our job.

Needless to say, she was hired and placed on a different shift after attending the fire academy. I didn’t have much interaction with her, but I heard other members comment about her both positively and negatively. As per department policy, after her first year, she was required to change shifts and stations. She was assigned to a pretty harsh and outspoken crew, which included me. Again, I was not happy. I still didn’t think women belonged in the fire service. I was cordial but not overly welcoming because of my biased views.

When we trained, I paid very close attention to her to find flaws in her actions. Was she perfect? No candidate with a year on the job is, but she accepted the criticism and improved. She worked hard. At one point, we were doing rapid intervention team training. The objective was to get the downed firefighter out of harm’s way. Most guys dragged the downed firefighter to the stairs and then down. Some guys did not succeed. When it came time for her to do the evolution, I volunteered to be the downed firefighter just to make it more difficult for her. When the evolution began, she promptly located me, rolled me over to check for injuries, assessed my air supply, and called a Mayday, as she was supposed to do.

She was then told, as were the other members, that the fire conditions were changing and she needed to get me out. She got to work and started dragging me—mind you, I weigh 240 pounds, and she weighed about 120 pounds. She worked her butt off getting me into another room, closed the door, and updated this information over the radio.

The evolution ended, and the officers started to badger her on her actions. I was about to come to her defense when she spoke up. She explained how, unlike some of the members, she got the downed firefighter to a place of refuge and out of harm’s way. I thought she did a great job, and I let her know it.

My view of her changed that day. I realized how much she wanted to be a firefighter and how hard she was working to accomplish that goal. A few months later, a group of firefighters stopped by our firehouse and started to make negative comments about her while she was off-duty. I got tired of their talk and let each of them know which firefighting and EMS evolutions she performed better than they did. They shut up immediately and headed for the door. After the end of her second year, we had a general shift change and our crew was broken up. She was assigned to another company whose officer had a very old-world mentality (“women belong in the kitchen”). This officer was completely sexist and treated her much differently than he treated his male firefighters. She was often required to do training that others, including those junior to her, were not required to do. Her battalion chief (BC) had two sets of standards—one for her and one for everyone else—and made sexist statements to her during her evaluations. Was she the best firefighter in the department? No, but she surely was not the worst. She wasn’t even the worst firefighter on her shift, but she was treated as if she were.

I learned of some of the comments that were made to her by her lieutenant and BC and told her they were inappropriate. I suggested that she file a sexual harassment complaint, but she refused to do so. She didn’t want to go that route. She wanted to prove them wrong by her actions. Sadly, family issues ended her firefighting career very early. Her dreams of becoming a firefighter came true but were now over. She loved being a firefighter and misses it still today.

Whatever happened to her? She got married and had a family. She works harder now than any firefighter does doing the most important job in the world—being a mom. Her husband was a closed-minded, sexist fool who learned firsthand how wrong his views were. I am her husband. I was wrong about her. She deserved to be treated better by me and other members of the department from the start. Each firefighter, no matter what sex, race, religion, or sexual orientation, deserves to be evaluated and judged by their actions and merit and not by some preconceived notions.

I agree that there is a seat at our table for all who are hungry. I wish that those who are not hungry would get up and leave to make room for those who are.

Patrick Brown
Chicago (IL) Fire Department


Ensure that tank cars are empty


I’m writing in reference to a letter from Captain Edward Bohn (Letters to the Editor, February 2010) about empty/residue tank cars. Bohn wrote that the cars were “…empty ethanol tank cars, meaning that each of the cars had a residue of 100 gallons or less.”

In fact, there is no volume/numeric threshold for determining the status of a tank car after it has been unloaded. The Code of Federal Regulations (49CFR171.8 – Definitions and Abbreviations) defines “Residue” as: “…the hazardous material remaining in a packaging, including a tank car, after its contents have been unloaded to the maximum extent practicable and before the packaging is either refilled or cleaned of hazardous material and purged to remove any hazardous vapors.”

The important phrase here is “…unloaded to the maximum extent practicable ….” Sometimes that can mean leaving only a few gallons in the car, basically the amount of product left in the piping after all of the unloading hoses have been disconnected. Other times, however, it can mean several hundred, possibly even a few thousand, gallons of product can remain in the car.

Causes could include defective metering and pumping equipment used in the unloading process, damaged liquid eduction piping that prevents the complete unloading of the car, or insufficient capacity at the consignee’s location, such that that product is returned to the original shipper for credit rather than taking the time to “sit on the car” and continue to slowly unload it as capacity allows.

In each of these cases, the shipping paperwork (train list) will show the cars as “residue/last contained.” It’s important that responders not get in the mind-set that the cars are “empty” (even though that’s probably how the train crew is going to refer to any train cars that are not actually loaded). Unless a tank car has been cleaned and purged following unloading, some amount of material remains in the car. Determining the exact amount will take some investigation. Most likely, contact with the last company to unload the car will yield information as to the true amount of product unloaded and how much product is left in the car.

All of the major railroads in the country provide training to emergency responders along their rights-of-way. Each company’s Web site is probably the best place to find out whom to contact in a specific area.

Lane A. Sekavec, CHMM
Hazardous Materials
Union Pacific Railroad
Kansas City, Missouri


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