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Women Firefighters Still Wear Gear Meant for Men, An Orange County Fire Rescue Study Could Change That

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Orange County Fire Rescue’s Shannon Zielonka says she’s worn male gear her entire career as a firefighter EMT from the boots to the gloves to the pants. 

As Zielonka stands on a box while a research assistant uses scanning software to make a 3-D model of her body, she says she’s ready for that to change. 

A firefighter is scanned to generate a 3-D model of her body. Photo: Orange County Fire Rescue

“It’s hard with my dexterity. And then when you’re crawling through mazes or if you’re going through windows or anything where you need to maneuver your legs, it’s a lot more difficult.”

That’s why Florida State University’s Meredith McQuerry-one of the researchers leading the study-says they’ll make this data along with height and weight measurements available to companies who could design gear for women.  

“And everyone work to improve in the next generation of firefighters hopefully to have better tailored, better fitting gear.”

She says they’re also scanning some male firefighters from minority groups to improve the fit of their gear as well. 

University of Oregon’s Susan Sokolowski-the other research lead-says this gear will also need to make it easier and more comfortable for the firefighters who wear it to do their jobs.

“In the design side, we’ll look at how that affects like placement of pockets for example. And for women because they’re shorter in stature, often the pockets are in the wrong place. So when you’re crawling, you might be crawling on a pocket with something in it.”

The latest statistics from the National Fire Protection Association show that the industry is still predominantly made up of white men between the ages of 30 and 49. 

If you’d like to listen to the story, please click on the clip above.

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Danielle Prieur

About Danielle Prieur

Reporter & Fill-in Host

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter at WMFE. You can hear her reporting on a daily basis on the station. She also fills-in as a host during the morning and afternoon drive times. Her reporting has been featured on NPR, Marketplace, Here & Now, and Vox. Danielle is originally from Rochester Hills, ... Read Full Bio »