Burning question on equal pay for equal work

24 Jul

Note from Louisa May Alcatt, Aug. 5, 2013: I have an update on this piece. I have learned from a firefighter with the Chelmsford, Mass., department, that strength and skill requirements are equal for both men and women candidates. Glad to know that no one is getting special treatment. It still makes for an interesting argument and many thanks to those who responded, xo LMA

female firefighters

Hello Suffragette Kitty fans!

My pub and I are up bright and early, though she is hardly feeling “bright” this morning.

Last night she was out, yet again, celebrating another dear friend’s birthday. (Hi Bob!)  BTW, My birthday is Friday, so please don’t expect any intelligible postings Saturday morning.

The merriment took place at Biagio’s Ristorante and Bar, which is at the start of the “Moody Mile,” or “Restaurant Row,” in Waltham, Mass. If you go there, and you should, may we recommend the scallops served with white chocolate risotto? Normally, my pub avoids carbs, but not when they are covered in white chocolate. You know that phrase “died and went to heaven?” Well, that’s what she was doing most of the evening.

Every now and then her head would pop out of the clouds of glory and she would catch bits and pieces of the lively table talk. E&E are a lovely couple and dining companions who have been happily married for decades despite their differing opinions on Dubya. Love does indeed conquer all.

The conversation moved from Dubya to Dubai, with brief stops off at the Whitey Bulger trial (very topical here) and income tax. One thing for sure, these Es are not silent when it comes to their opinions.

She-E asked my pub what she was up to these days and of course this blog came up. Both Es were interested, though She-E was more accepting than He-E about it being in my voice. He-E said he doesn’t get it. (Bob has previously declared  – repeatedly –  that the “cat thing” is stupid.) Must be a girl thing.

She-E and my pub were very focused on the equal pay for equal work, and both agreed it is a good thing. Then He-E piped in. The Massachusetts fire academy, he said, requires potential female firefighters to haul a 110-pound dummy from a burning blaze. Meanwhile, men who want to become firefighters have to be able to safely carry a 160-pound dummy. They both get equal pay, but is it equal work, he asked. (He-E has a friend who works at the fire academy. My pub and I could not find data to support this yet, but we will use He-E’s info for argument’s sake.)

She-E and my pub defended women firefighters. They deserve immense credit, as well as their male counterparts, for choosing a highly demanding, and often times life-threatening career, solely to save people and places from fires. Women are also more compassionate, She-E rightly added.

Yes, said He-E, but if your family was in a burning building, would you want a team of female firefighters to come to your rescue or a team of men?

OK, She-E and my pub had to think. Neither of us has seen 110 pounds on the scale in a decade or two, and never will again now that white-chocolate risotto has been discoverd.

They could team up, my pub, chimed in. Two firefighters could carry a single person. She-E liked this solution and toasted it with a sip of her martini.

So, said He-E, we should hire twice as many female firefighters as male?

Who invited He-E, anyway?

He-E gave us a challenge: Ask your readers if they’d rather a team of female firefighters save them from a burning building or an team of equal number of male firefighters. So, dear readers, help us out. What would you say and why?

As for my pub, she thinks that women, like men, are resourceful and would find a way to get everyone to safety. Your thoughts.

xo, Louisa May Alcatt


We are adding this here b/c my pub does not know how to install sidebars:


 Who was the first woman firefighter?

As far as we currently know, the first woman to be paid for fighting fires was Sandra Forcier, who was hired as a Public Safety Officer — a combination police officer and firefighter — by the City of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on July 1, 1973. Forcier moved into a fire-only position four years later. Battalion Chief Sandra (Forcier) Waldron retired from Winston-Salem in 2004.

Judith Livers (now Judith Brewer) was hired as a firefighter by the Arlington County, Virginia, Fire Department in 1974, becoming the first woman ever hired into a strictly firefighting position. Helping her firefighter husband study for his fire science classes, Livers learned about the devastation fire can cause, and was motivated to become a firefighter herself. She retired from Arlington County in late 1999, at the rank of battalion chief.

Many other women were in the fire service before 1974. The earliest were volunteer firefighters in urban and small-town settings, who date back to the 1800’s at least. Molly Williams was the first known woman firefighter, an African-American woman held as a slave who worked on Oceanus Engine Company #11 in New York City in 1818. Women have also worked as fire lookouts since the early 1900’s and, beginning in the mid-1970’s, as seasonal firefighters in the wildland sector.

Molly  wore a calico dress to fight fires along with the men. Molly considered herself “as good a fire laddie as many of the boys.” We could not find an image of Molly, but think she is spectacular.

xo LMA


8 Responses to “Burning question on equal pay for equal work”

  1. Carol Jamison July 24, 2013 at 11:41 am #

    Ms. Alcatt,

    Male or Female…either, as long as I knew they were coming and knew what to do. I would imagine that no two fires are the same, and most important to me is that those coming to rescue me have been trained to innovate in challenging situations. That doesn’t require physical strength, it requires intelligence and creativity.

  2. Nancy Loderick July 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Hi Louise,

    Thanks for a thought-provoking article. Very interesting.

    Thanks too, for the recent like of my blog posts. It led me to your blog, which I am now following.

    I look forward to reading more of your interesting and informative posts!


    • Richard Fox July 24, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

      Why are we still arguing about such “problems?” Aren’t we beyond that?Of course we need both women and men “think.”


      • louisamayalcatt July 24, 2013 at 8:27 pm #

        Love your response, Richard. very to the point, and true! many thanks, LMA

    • louisamayalcatt July 24, 2013 at 8:28 pm #

      And many thanks to you, Nancy, So appreciate your time and opinion, xo LMA

    • louisamayalcatt July 25, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      Thanks Nancy, We are thrilled you’re here, LMA

  3. LB July 25, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    The TEAM of firefighters should include those who are strong, smart,reponsive, cool under pressure, and highly trained. Gender does not matter!!!! This is why you have a TEAM! If I can’t haul out a 200 lb person, then I take over the job of someone (male or female) who can. And honestly? Many man have trouble with that weigt!
    I’m with Richard … why is this even an issue for He-E?

    • LB July 25, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      Oh! My passion came out from and center and I didn’t thank you for reading my post about the Arizona firefighters and for visiting my blog!!

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