Ayes in Seattle
The plane banked sharply over the crater of Mt. St. Helens, setting the interest level for the next three days. Making its way farther westward, the craft drifted through mountain ridges and over an intricate, lush harbor into a beautiful metropolis. Touchdown, baggage claim, cab ride, and hotel check-in were the last of routine, I figured.
I was participating in the second annual Women in Fire Suppression conference in Seattle. “Stand by for radical arguments, hate, and tension,” I surmised.
Seattle weather is reputed to be dank and wet. “Great for the mood we’ll be pushed into,” I thought. Well, the sunny warmth of the first day should have forecast the many pleasant experiences I was in for.
On the first day, I began by attending a management class run by a uniformed fire officer. After an hour of presentation, members of the audience began to ask questions about problems they identified as existing “onlv because we’re female.” After listening to a number of these, 1 realized many of them were universal management frustrations within all fire service organizations, solved many times before. Open communication within the entire fire service would help identify the “wheels” that have already been invented and focus on the solution to those problems that are unique. I wanted to communicate.
My hand recognized, 1 began, “I’ve never felt like a minority before.” “Good!” came a chorus of voices from my sister firefighters. “Whoops,” 1 mumbled. But 1 made my point and the class continued, informative and meaningful as it began. Communication—pleasant experience No. 2.
Still, I felt somewhat like a lost soul. Until, that is, my presentation on basic forcible entry. Arranging my 180 pounds of locks I observed a moment of silence for the string of herniated redcaps all the way back to the l ast Coast and began to hook up extension cords and test projector bulbs, rhe room was slow to fill, and 1 began late. After the 1½ hours allotted, 1 explained we could never finish on time and I would continue for two more hours should anyone be interested. “Right on,” the class echoed. Professional interest and dedication—pleasant experience No. 3.
At the social hours, 1 watched as fire service members laughed, drank beer, and told lies about fires. It was the same as hundreds of other firefighter gatherings I’ve been part of over the past 25 years. One dominant impression came to mind: These firefighters were genuinely interested in each other and their surroundings. My sentiments were reinforced by a union leader from New York City, a haz-mat specialist from San Francisco, and a deputy chief from Phoenix. We all nodded: We were envious of the comraderie and the free-flowing friendship. Pleasant experience No. 37.
I know in my heart that, one day, a sisterhood of firefighters will no longer lx1 separate from a brotherhood of firefighters. We won’t have to stumble over words like personpower to replace manpower, and minimum manning will mean a managerial commitment. We will be one fire service again. When? I don’t know (dinosaurs are difficult to bury). One thing I do know: In Seattle, I witnessed a positive, upbeat, and professional step in that direction.