Equal rights for firemen constitutes a public hazard
Female firefighters in Lund need eleven minutes to force a security door – no one will be left alive
If your apartment catches fire, firemen need to get in there fast to save you. A common apartment door can be forced open in 10 to 20 seconds; a security-enforced door takes 45 to 60 seconds.
Now information has leaked that female firefighters take more than 10 minutes to break through a secured door.
“If this is true, it is deeply serious. After that amount of time, there will be no life left to save on the other side,” says Henrik Persson, fire chief in Höganäs.
After the article in Dispatch International on January 26th [not in English!] on how the diversity agitation within the Emergency Services South endangers public safety, the editors have received several hints about how bad things are in Swedish fire brigades. The situation seems to be worst in the city of Lund, whose fire brigade has been highlighted as “exemplary” due to an almost perfectly equal gender balance.
Some time ago the firefighters were practicing forcing open security doors while wearing full protective clothing. When two female firefighters were put to the task, it reportedly took them eleven minutes.
“That is quite remarkable. We will have to look at this, says Peter Bergh,” a spokesman for the National Union of Firefighters.
Peter Bergh says that the union, which represents around 9,000 of the 15,000 Swedish firefighters, has been watching with increasing concern how the emergency services in recent years have focused more and more on diversity, and accordingly less on professional skills.
“In 2011, in cooperation with Centrum för Rättvisa (’Center for Justice’), we brought a case to court concerning a Swedish firefighter who, in spite of two years of education, was refused employment at Södertörns Brandförsvar. While at the same time a number of women with poorer or irrelevant skills were hired as firefighters,” recalls Peter Bergh.
“As the case was settled out of court and Södertörns Brandförsvar was forced to pay Skr 100,000 (€11,600) in compensation (a large figure by Swedish standards), we thought that the emergency services would reconsider the matters,” says Peter Bergh.
But that does not seem to be the case. When Räddningstjänsten Sydoes hired ten new workers in Malmö, the ones with the best skills and longest experience were turned down. Five positions went to women with very superficial professional skills.
And at the “exemplary brigade” in Lund, exercises show that some female firefighters are not able to enter a burning apartment with a secured front door. Henrik Persson, who for many years worked in Malmö as both a firefighter and a group leader, and now employed as fire chief in Höganäs, is gravely concerned.
“The conditions when saving lives in buildings keep getting tougher. It is more common now that that we encounter security doors of various classifications when we need to enter an apartment,” says Henrik Persson.
“Forcing oneself through a security door requires strenuous muscle-effort and teamwork, under intense time pressure. And although I do not know of the specific exercise in Lund, where women took eleven minute to force the security door open, I am aware that competence is falling in several areas, simply because the demands for physical strength have been lowered.”
Can people survive eleven minutes in a burning apartment?
“No, after eleven minutes there is, in theory, no life left to save on the other side of the door,” replies Henrik Persson.
Henrik Persson as well as Peter Bergh confirm that such results have been hushed up and pushed aside. No one will acknowledge that over the last decade, the competence of firemen has deteriorated severely.
“As a logical consequence, this is a risk for the general public. In order to fix these problems, we must have the courage to talk about them; the demands must be in line with what the job requires,” says Henrik Persson.
The change started at the end of the 1990′s. Previously most of those who went on to become firefighters had been carpenters, electricians or plumbers, people with solid physical ability. The personnel consisted of people capable of practical work under heavy physical and psychological strain.
“This is actually what the operative side of the trade is about. A hundred percent,” says Henrik Persson.
“Then suddenly we got the idea that it was vitally important that the force consisted not only of big, strong Swedish men, and they worked eagerly to recruit women, and not least men of immigrant background.”
In order to motivate this, a problem was constructed, Henrik Persson believes. It was claimed that the jargon among firefighters was offensive and condescending, a macho culture, and that had to be countered, no matter the cost. This later spread like wildfire through all of Sweden.
“But that was not my impression. Yes, there were some who openly and loudly argued that women do not make good firefighters, and certainly the jargon could be rude, but it has always been cordial. As frequently is the case in workplaces handling matters of life and death, says Henrik Persson.
According to Persson, firefighters are actually the most broadminded and tolerant profession towards various beliefs, sexual orientation and other issues that could be perceived as dissenting or in the minority. Taking care of people is a part of the job.
“And has one ever heard of the jargon being such a problem in other single-gender professions, such as garbage truck drivers, nannies or nurses? A problem so worrisome that it justified a lowering of professional standards?”
But this is exactly what is happening within the emergency services. The normal tests for physical skills were scrapped, enabling a much wider range of people to become firefighters.
“But the fact remains that even the best woman cannot physically match the best man, this is simply the truth. What makes it so emotionally loaded to acknowledge this? That does not mean that the physical tests are to be the single determining factor. I have worked with female colleagues myself, and know that there are both competent and skillful women in the force,” says Henrik Persson.
In Höganäs, the fire brigade is in the midst of an organizational reform, while at the same time several have retired due to age.
“We have a series of operative special tasks here, such as advance rescues with ropes, a large lifeboat requiring good boatmanship, tracked vehicles and traditional firefighting tasks. We are a small force which places large demands on individual skills. Furthermore, we must make sure that some have the potential to become leaders in the future. We cannot recruit staff based on gender or ethnicity – if we did so, we would not be able to deliver the required operative capabilities.
“First and foremost, we need to hire the best candidate – regardless of gender or origin of the given person, that is my firm conviction.”
Henrik Persson is dead scared of getting into a situation like those that occurred during his time in Malmö. When he had to call the supreme fire chief to report that on that day, they did not have the required competence.
“That was due to the lack of required education and capability among the personnel. That has happened several times in recent years, much more frequently than people in general dare to believe. At times, when the alarm went, we would have to go to the scene, merely to await reinforcement in order to handle some types of operations, for example stopping a simple water leak.”
The spokesman for the National Union of Firefighters, Peter Bergh, takes the news very seriously that it took firefighters in Lund more than 10 minutes to force open a security door, and intends to take action on it.
“If there ever is a time in life where people expect value for their tax money, it is when their lives are at risk. In that situation, they must have the best possible help,” says Peter Bergh.
“Pluralism is great, and there can be good reasons for the force to reflect society at large, not least when we have to respond to inhabitants in areas like Rosengård, where the fire brigades are not liked. But one fact remains – one cannot talk away a fire.”