Women firefighters: the added risks

More female firefighters are being hired but new research, co-led by the University of Brighton, suggests that fire services need to ensure appropriate consideration is given to female specific needs. 

More than 800 women firefighters from 14 different countries, 255 in the UK, told researchers via an online survey that they face injury, illness and heat illness risk at similar rates to that of male firefighters. The report said specific issues such as protective equipment, clothing, health issues and long-term training need further consideration and improvement.  

The study coincides with national news reports claiming women firefighters in the UK were being put in danger by having to wear suits designed for men.

The study recommended all countries should make female-specific personal protective equipment (PPE) available to staff, and they should include women firefighters in the consultation phase of PPE procurement. 

“There is also a need for female-specific strength and conditioning support to support career longevity. Services should consider their facilities, support, and education of women firefighters in regard to menstrual cycle phases and menopause.  

“Finally, there is concern from women firefighters about the risk of cancer and fertility, which clearly needs greater research.” 

The research, Women Firefighters’ Health and Well-Being: An International Survey, is published by Elsevier: To read the full report, go to: https://bit.ly/2HPGvbN

The study found the availability of female-specific PPE was, in fact, greatest in the UK (66%) compared with other groups (42%). But it concluded: “There is a need for female-specific strength and conditioning support and facilities to decrease injury and illness risk and improve longevity. Research and education into gynecological issues, heat exposure, and their effects on women firefighters’ fertility and cancer risk is required.” 

Alan RichardsonDr Alan Richardson, Principal Lecturer in Exercise & Environment Physiology in the University of Brighton’s Sport and Exercise Science and Medicine Research and Enterprise Group, based at the Eastbourne campus, collaborated with experts from The Netherlands, USA, and Australia for the research. 

Dr Richardson said: “This study aimed to identify specific health and well-being issues that women firefighters may experience as part of their daily working practices. 

“Despite a growing body of research for male health in fire services, currently there is limited work on the specific health needs of women. 

“Issues identified from this under-represented population can drive future research, education, and strategy to guide safety and health practices.”  

For more about Dr Richardson, go to: https://research.brighton.ac.uk/en/persons/alan-richardson

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