Ten years ago, fire departments across California eagerly listened to the complaints of female firefighters: their gear was made for men. Now, officials are speculating that the fierce fires in Ventura and Santa Barbara might have been sparked by warehouses full of women’s size 1 firefighting gear.
“After years of watching women wipe sweat from their faces with one hand and pull up sagging men’s pants with the other, it was just too much to take,” said Santa Barbara Fire Chief K.J. Lenswhite.
“But once we started buying clothes for women, we just couldn’t stop,” said Lenswhite. “You should have seen the mountain of boots. Our gear is made to last for years and we prepared too well. Once the fire started, she just persisted.”
More than 8,000 firefighters battled the Thomas fire at its peak. Many were women whose uniforms used to be baggy and uncomfortable, but are now svelte and utterly fantastic.
Many women firefighters also have fathers, brothers, and nephews who are firefighters, and it remains a male-dominated industry. Still, the women we spoke to say they’re glad they don’t have to wear the ugly suspenders that routinely appear on the “Hottest Firefighters” calendars across the country.
Joe Stackhouse, a firefighter with the Sierra National Forest, has gathered hundreds of surveys from female firefighters across the nation about their body measurements.
His efforts began in the spring of 2008 with an email to a female colleague. “Within the hour, I had three people from the company on the phone with me telling me that they’d like to make equipment for women,” Stackhouse said.
Stackhouse spent the next few years gathering measurements from female firefighters in California, Oregon, Texas, Florida and other states. “The response was overwhelming,” Stackhouse said. “I knew there was a market for this. I just hope these warehouse fires don’t put a damper on my efforts.”