L.A. County takes steps to address ill-fitting gear for female firefighters, supervisors highlight safety concerns

February 7, 2024

Ill-fitting gear poses risks to female firefighters

In Los Angeles County, a pressing issue has come to light regarding the safety and efficacy of female firefighters and lifeguards due to ill-fitting uniforms, the LA Time has reported.

During a recent Board of Supervisors meeting, it was revealed that the standard-issue uniforms, primarily designed for men, are not adequately serving their female counterparts.

These uniforms, which are crucial for the safety of firefighters rushing into hazardous environments, restrict movement, are unnecessarily heavy, and leave gaps that can lead to severe injuries from flying embers or smoke inhalation, a known carcinogen.

County supervisors demand action

Prompted by the concerns raised, Supervisors Janice Hahn and Chair Lindsey Horvath have taken decisive steps to rectify this pressing issue.

They authored a motion which was passed unanimously, mandating the Los Angeles County Fire Department, in collaboration with its Women’s Fire League, to formulate a plan within 60 days.

This plan aims to provide female firefighters, paramedics, and lifeguards with uniforms and personal protective equipment (PPE) tailored to fit their needs.

Furthermore, the supervisors have committed to addressing manufacturers directly, urging them to offer better and more suitable options for female firefighters.

Janice Hahn emphasized the gravity of the situation: “It is a safety issue for our women in the Fire Department — it’s also a safety issue for those they’re working to rescue in a split second,” illustrating the hindrance ill-fitting gear poses not just to the firefighters but also to the individuals they aim to save.

A historical overview of uniform challenges

The Los Angeles County Fire Department, one of the largest metropolitan emergency service agencies in the U.S., has faced criticism for its lack of diversity, being predominantly male and white.

The current roster of approximately 3,000 firefighters includes only about 80 women, a slight increase from 45 in 2017.

This disparity has been a contributing factor to the limited uniform options available for women in the force.

Fire Chief Anthony Marrone and Battalion Chief Sara Rathbun, president of the L.A. County Women’s Fire League, shared insights into the challenges faced by the department in procuring suitable gear for female firefighters.

Marrone highlighted the issues with manufacturers, including the absence of templates for female work pants and the prohibitive costs associated with custom orders.

Rathbun reflected on the slow pace of change within the fire service, noting the need to balance tradition with the evolving needs of its workforce.

The impact of inadequate gear

Female firefighters, such as L.A. County firefighter/paramedic Siene Freeman and Danielle McMillon from the L.A. County lifeguard division, shared personal experiences that underscored the operational and safety challenges posed by ill-fitting gear.

Freeman highlighted how gear that restricts movement can impede proper technique, increasing the risk of injury and hindering performance.

McMillon pointed out the absurdity of being provided with board shorts available only in children’s sizes, illustrating a lack of consideration for adult female professionals.

Experts in the field, like Lynn M. Boorady from Oklahoma State University, have echoed these concerns, noting the broader implications of such uniform discrepancies on the health and safety of female firefighters.

Boorady’s research underscores the heightened risk of heat stress and related health issues due to oversized and heavy gear.

FSJA Comment

The recent actions taken by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to address the issue of ill-fitting gear for female firefighters mark a crucial step towards ensuring the safety and efficiency of all fire service personnel.

This initiative not only highlights the importance of providing appropriate equipment that meets the specific needs of female firefighters but also sets a precedent for other departments across the nation.

As the conversation around diversity and inclusion within the fire service continues to evolve, it becomes increasingly clear that addressing such practical concerns is fundamental to fostering a more inclusive and effective emergency response environment.

The commitment demonstrated by the county to rectify this long-standing issue is a positive move towards recognizing and addressing the unique challenges faced by female firefighters, ultimately aiming to enhance their performance, safety, and well-being.

Read Next

Subscribe Now