TMI Action (aka Willamette Public Health) was recently featured in an article by High Country News which talks extensively about the pervasive problems that women face in the wildland firefighting industry. The article touches on the cases throughout history which have brought this issue to light, and also talks about efforts from various regions and individuals to increase awareness and improve conditions for women in the firefighting industry.
The article begins by talking about Becqui Livingston’s Women in Wildland Fire bootcamps, which she started in 2012. Livingston hoped to give women a supportive place to get started with training in the rigorous career after experiencing extensive opposition to her own career beginning in 1979.
The bootcamps offer a place where women can undergo the same exhaustingly brutal training procedures that are carried out in many firefighting training exercises, but without the gender-based discrimination, sexual harassment, and threatening behavior that women encounter in the male-dominated business.
A large portion of the article focuses on the Pacific Southwest region of the United States, where a class-action complaint on behalf of all female firefighters in the region alleges pervasive sexual misconduct, discrimination, and retaliation toward women in the region’s firefighting divisions. High Country News reports on multiple instances of sexual harassment, including derogatory flyers about a female firefighter being posted, and crude, offensive language casually being directed toward trainees.
One woman from New Mexico tells several stories about abusive remarks and behaviors she experienced in her time as the only woman on a firefighting crew, even citing an incident in which one coworker threw her on a bed and attempted to rape her.
There is a lack of accountability within the industry for those who commit these acts. In fact, many women who serve in the wildland firefighting industry avoid reporting incidents of abuse and/or harassment because theyare fearful of the retaliation that may come as a result and affect their career or well-being. Survivors should not have to live with the thought that they may be villainized for reporting the villainous behavior of their attackers.
High Country News mentions in the article that there are efforts being made to change the cultural conditions of the wildland firefighting industry. The bootcamp model of training sessions for women have had a palpable impact on the industry, as these same programs have spread from New Mexico and Arizona to Utah and California. The program’s sole purpose is not to train and recruit qualified firefighters, but also to create a network of supportive women who can look to each other for help.
This gender-biased and abusive behavior is, of course, exactly the kind of thing that Willamette Public Health Consulting [now TMI Action] seeks to prevent. After two women in the wildland firefighting industry were raped, and another woman escaped the same experience, WPHC was formed in the hopes of stimulating a shift in attitude, thinking, and behavior within the world of wildland firefighting.