Despite equal opportunity legislation, female firefighters (3.4 percent) remain underrepresented compared to their male counter parts (97 percent) in the United States (NPFA, 2012). I question why there are so few women pursuing a firefighting career and if there are any organizational, cultural, or structural barriers which affect the retention and recruitment of women. My research entails observations and interviews with staff at three firefighting stations in my community; my data spanned both individual background and organizational dynamics. Across the firefighting occupation, my analysis focuses on understanding the recruitment process and early phases of firefighting careers to understand the ways in which women might be encouraged and discouraged into the occupation. In this paper, I begin with a literature review about the history and status of women in the field, comparisons with barriers faced by women in other traditionally male fields such as policing since there is limited literature on women in firefighting, efforts undertaken to increase the percentages of women in firefighting, and the organizational dynamics of firefighting highlighted in prior research. From this review I develop an analytic framework for my analysis. After a review of my research methodology, I turn to my analysis of recruitment and probationary stages in firefighting and how these stages affect recruitment and retention of women. First, I review how social networks facilitate pre-employment socialization which enhances candidate work opportunities in firefighting. Second, I examine the recruitment process and criteria for hiring and the ways in which the same social networks facilitate success in the probationary phases of employment. Third, I highlight issues of stereotypical masculine images associated with becoming a good firefighter. By focusing on the recruitment and hiring processes, training and probationary periods, and inherent masculinities prevalent in the fire organization, I am able to identify some key issues and apply them to the fire organization.
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