Time for Women Firefighters!

“Firefighters save more than homes. They save hearts, memories and dreams.”

Traditionally, firefighting has been a male bastion. Whether in professional or volunteer contexts, it is mostly men who have been a part of this domain of work. However, in recent times, more and more women are making their entry into this field.

According to a Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) report tabled this year, the Delhi Fire Service (DFS) has 1,950 male operational staff and senior officers, but not a single woman firefighter. The five-year audit report pointed out that DFS has 1,469 vacancies in those posts — a 42.8% staff shortage.

This is not a reflection of firefighting for Indian women in entirety. Other states have inducted women in firefighting positions. In 2002, Harshini Kanhekar made history by obtaining admission in the fire engineering course at National Fire Service College (Nagpur). In 2003, the Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services appointed Priya Ravichandran as a Divisional fire officer, making her one of the first female fire officers in the country, and the first one to win Anna Medal for Bravery in Tamil Nadu In 2013, the department inducted its second batch of women firefighters. In 2009, a proposal was mooted in the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation to allow women into the fire services. In 2012, the Mumbai Fire Brigade inducted five women firefighters, making them the first in the history of the organisation.

Meenakshi Vijaykumar, India’s first woman fire officer and now deputy director of Tamil Nadu Fire and Rescue Services, says this absence of women in Delhi, is a result of mentality. “We are officers, irrespective of gender… We are ready to die — that’s the mindset we have. Women are already around LPG cylinders all day long. We are capable of holding 180-pound hoses, we are trained to saw, cut and pull out bodies from debris. Women have an edge,” says the President’s Gallantry Medal awardee, as they are more sensitive to suffering, more caring and are natural multi-taskers. “It helps on the job where we have to think, command and act.”

DFS chief fire officer Atul Garg agrees. When women can wrestle, they can definitely firefight, he says. “There is no ban legally. Anybody can apply to DFS.”
“Studies show women are biologically more likely to survive than men. Their haemoglobin level is generally low. Yet, they go about their day-to-day business. I will be happy to have women in my team,” says Connaught Place fire station officer in-charge, Rajesh Shukla.

With women entering combat roles in our country’s defence forces, it is only but natural, that they are also trained and inducted into firefighting roles.

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