Finding the right fit: Equipment has been problematic, even dangerous, for female firefighters | North West
SPOKANE – Spokane Valley firefighter Sharayah Mullerleile said ill-fitting fire equipment has been a problem for her since joining the full-time service last year.
Chief Toni Washington, the first African-American woman and fire chief for Decatur Fire and Rescue in Georgia, said she has struggled with suitable equipment throughout her career.
“The fire department is a male dominated profession,” Washington said. “He adapted to the male physique and not to women. It’s a safety issue for us as women that when we have gear that doesn’t suit us, you know, it could be a danger to our safety. “
Researchers are studying the design, comfort and mobility of female firefighters’ personal protective equipment with the aim of improving fit.
Women firefighters from across the country gathered this week at the Centennial Hotel in Spokane for the International Women in Fire 2021 conference, “Committed to Change.”
As part of the research, Dr Meredith McQuerry, associate professor at the College of Entrepreneurship at Florida State University, said that she, Dr Cassandra Kwon, assistant research professor at the College of Textiles of the North Carolina State University and research assistants collected head-to-toe measurements from 129 female firefighters at the conference, which ended Friday. The goal of the project is to measure a total of 200 to 300 female firefighters, McQuerry said.
She said these measures will allow researchers to improve the size and, therefore, the fit of firefighting equipment for women.
McQuerry said the National Fire Protection Association’s requirements specify the size of women and the use of a separate female equipment model, but with the lack of data on the body types and measurements of female firefighters, it It is difficult to get these models and sizing systems as accurate as they need to be. .
McQuerry said they are using mobile three-dimensional body scan technology to collect 150 body measurements from a person in about 15 seconds. She said they were also manually measuring firefighters to validate body scanner measurements.
Mullerleile, who was measured at the conference, said the most difficult pieces of equipment are boots, which are often only available for men and are too wide for people with narrow feet, and jackets from firefighters.
Although they may be smaller in a men’s fire jacket, the cuffs and neck are often too big, which can allow vapor and heat to pass close to the skin, she said. Jacket pockets hit the wrong place and the torso is often the wrong length.
“There is a little extra hurdle that you have to jump because you just need to learn to walk and move with men’s boots, men’s gear,” Mullerleile said.
McQuerry said the study planned to focus on areas where female firefighters tend to have the most problems with the correct fit of equipment, including the chest, waist, hips and neck.
She said female firefighters experience a four times higher injury rate than men, in part due to ill-fitting personal protective equipment.
McQuerry said women made up 8% of structural firefighters. When you add volunteer firefighters, paramedic firefighters, and wildland firefighters, that number is likely higher.
“It is unfortunate that we are in 2021 and that women firefighters do not have equipment, clothes that fit them well,” said McQuerry.
Washington said that while she has learned to adapt and overcome the challenges posed by ill-fitting equipment, she hopes the next generation of firefighters won’t have to.
“Women, we have this ambition, and we have this motivation,” Washington said. “We adapt and we overcome. We made it work, but think about how great we could be if we had the right tools and materials. “
McQuerry said FEMA provided a grant of $ 403,000 for the project. Florida State University is in partnership with North Carolina State University, Women in Fire, National Fire Protection Association, and Fire Protection Research Foundation.