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L.A. Female Firefighters

August 14, 1994

* As chief of the Los Angeles City Fire Department, I wish to commend you for the insightful article on female firefighters (Aug. 2). There are certain statements concerning our department in your article, however, which conflict with our data that need to be addressed.

The federal court consent decree of 1974 for the Fire Department addressed ethnic minorities without mention of females. The article could lead one to believe that our department began recruiting females to avoid being sued. When I became chief in 1983, there was no hint of being sued on this matter.

On becoming chief, one of my first actions was to obtain approval from the Board of Fire Commissioners, the mayor and the City Council for a training program that focused on enhancing female candidates' physical ability potential. We wanted to hire female firefighters because we believed that women had every right to be firefighters and could become successful firefighters. The only caveat was that female firefighters must, for the safety of their fellow workers, meet the same minimum physical standards as their male counterparts. To its credit, your article stressed this important factor. In emergency situations, lives are at stake and firefighter safety should never be compromised.

The statistic of 53 female firefighters in our department is inaccurate. We have 100 female firefighters, including two fire inspectors in the Fire Prevention Bureau, three engineers and three captains. With 100 female firefighters, we now have 3.2% of our firefighter work force female. This means that our department has more female firefighters than any other career fire department in the nation, and, in fact, we have 2.5% of the career female firefighters in the nation. We are proud of this record and plan to continue our successful programs to improve our statistics not only at the entry level, but also for career options and enhanced promotability.

Our 3.2% female representation, in my view, is nowhere near enough, and I am pleased that your article stressed in conclusion that it is rare for a female firefighter ever to work alongside another female firefighter. We hope to change this situation in Los Angeles, and our female tutorial program is the primary vehicle to achieve this. This program is alive and well and we have no intention of eliminating this program as was mentioned in the article, and are unaware of a threatened lawsuit to stop this program. We are convinced that this is the best program at our disposal to increase the number of female firefighters.

DONALD O. MANNING

Los Angeles City Fire Department

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