There are few professions that have a more masculine public perception than professional firefighting. It is true that firefighters in the United States are still predominately male, however the history of female firefighters goes back further than you think.
According to the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services, the first known American female firefighter worked for Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City in 1818. She was an enslaved African American woman named Molly Williams. She was not paid for her service and was known to the other firefighters as “Volunteer #11.”
The first woman known to be paid for fighting fires was Sandra Forcier, who was hired as a Public Safety Officer – a combination firefighter and police officer – by the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1973. She rose to the rank of Battalion Chief and retired from the department in 2004.
The first American woman to be hired exclusively as a firefighter was Judith Livers, who was hired by the Arlington County, VA Fire Department in 1974. She also rose to the rank of Battalion Chief before she retired in 1999.
There are currently 6,200 full-time career female firefighters in the United States and an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 female volunteer firefighters. However, women still account for less than 5% of all American fighters. To help grow those numbers, organizations like iWomen and Camp Blaze have developed active training camps for young women who are interested in fire service. Such camps provide both physical training and science education to help women meet the rigorous requirements of fire department testing.
For more information, please visit websites of the International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services and the International Association of Fire Fighters.