February 6, 2024

Supervisors Take on Uniform Fight for Women Firefighters

Supervisor Hahn wears turnout gear designed for men and experiences the ill-fit constricting her ability to lift her leg. Captain Kelliher and Chief Marrone pictured at right.

Los Angeles, CA—Today, the all-women Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion authored by Supervisor Janice Hahn and co-authored by Board Chair Lindsey Horvath to take on a challenge facing women firefighters in LA County and across the country: their uniforms are made for men.

The ill-fitting uniforms and turnout gear leave women firefighters and lifeguards vulnerable to cancer due to exposure smoke and other carcinogens, and injuries due to the uniforms and gear constricting their movement.

“The women of our LA County Fire Department are heroic, and they save lives every day all while dealing with uniforms that don’t fit correctly and restrict their movement,” said Supervisor Janice Hahn, who tried on the turnout gear for herself before the meeting. “Like so many other women in a male dominated field, they go out of their way not to complain. But this is a real problem and these women need to know that this board has their back – and their hips.”

Watch full video of testimony

The challenge is that most manufacturing companies that produce firefighter uniforms or turnout gear don’t make ones that are meant to fit female bodies. As a result, the women in the Los Angeles County Fire Department are forced to wear uniforms and protective gear that are designed for men and do not fit properly.

“Women on our frontlines deserve to have uniforms and equipment that are suited for the essential, lifesaving work that they perform day in and day out,” said Chair Lindsey P. Horvath. “Today’s motion will further ensure that our diverse and exceptional Los Angeles County firefighters are fully prepared and supported in the essential roles they play in our communities.”

LA County Fire Fighters Emily Fuller and Siene Freeman demonstrate how turnout gear designed for men restricts their movement.

During today’s board meeting, Los Angeles County Fire Chief Anthony C. Marrone, Deputy Chief Eleni Pappas, Lifeguard Section Chief Danielle McMillon, and Battalion Chief Sara Rathbun testified to the board about the challenges the uniforms create for women in the department, including increased cancer risk and getting injured on the job. Women firefighters wearing their turnout gear demonstrated that the cut of the pants limits women’s ability to squat or climb and the cut in the chest and shoulders limits women’s ability to raise their arms.

“I echo Supervisor Hahn’s statement that I’ve never once complained about my uniforms, but that doesn’t mean they fit,” said Fire Captain Sheila Kelliher. “We are problem solvers by nature, it’s what we do. Where I have a problem is, now I’m mentoring the next generation of men and women coming through our department, and when I tell a 23-year-old girl, ‘Eh, just figure it out, just, I don’t know, pull them up, tighten up your suspenders,’ it doesn’t work. We need to do better.”

The motion approved by the board today directs the LA County Fire Chief to work with the CEO and the Women’s Fire League to report back in 60 days on a plan to make work uniforms and PPE specific for women fire fighters and lifeguards available to LACoFD employees. The Board will also send a letter signed by all five women members to the manufacturers and vendors that produce and distribute the PPE and uniforms purchased by LACoFD urging them to manufacture women’s PPE and uniforms and make them more accessible to purchase.

The Los Angeles County Fire Department currently employs just 82 women firefighters– an issue that has drawn criticism from Supervisor Hahn.

Fire Chief Anthony Marrone testified that he was committed to taking on this challenge saying, “this is an issue of equity that we must address as we move forward to not only hire but retain and promote women.”

Full size photos:

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