Thursday, August 30, 2007

Us and Them

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When I started with my Fire Department, there were no women in it. Good, bad, that's just the way it was. One bathroom in every station, one bedroom, and people walked around in the mornings in their underwear. We farted and burped whenever we pleased. Inside the stations it was somewhere between Lord of The Flies, and a college dorm.
I have to list Lord of The Flies because in those days most of us had a shotgun or a pistol in the station, and many of us had our bows for archery practice before deer season. I only know of one fireman who got shot, but that's another post. (Picture a Dick Cheney type accident)

One day, my station received notice that we would be going to mandatory "Diversity Training". The entire department was going. When we arrived at our class, we are told that we have to do this because there is a woman on the hiring list.

Let me back up a bit. In order to get hired (in my department) you must take the entrance test. Everyone who passes is ranked in order of their test scores. Depending on how many people we need to hire, they take maybe the first 20 on the list and give them a physical ability test. Its basically the combat challenge. It's a pass or fail physical test, and lots of guys don't pass. Whoever is left is still on the list is in their original order. Then comes the background check, as in complete background check. When they did mine, they found things I wouldn't talk about on a blog. If the applicant hasn't been disqualified yet, they are offered a job in order of the list, as a job becomes available. The list is good for a year, and then it starts all over again.
Unlike some departments in our area, everyone takes the same physical test. The 5'4" 128lb woman takes the same test as the 6'2" 225lb man. And it's a female dog.

The plus side is that anybody who gets hired, man or woman, big or small, all pass the test.

Well, we had been told that one female had passed the test. She was going through the background phase and it was very likely she would be hired. Some of the guys were worried. Most didn't care. The Administration and City personnel Departments were in full fledged panic mode though.

Oh my God, what if someone farts in front of her?

So we go to training. "Us and Them" training. They actually paid someone for this. Over a couple of hours we were scolded and admonished that we could not treat a woman different. We couldn't expect her to wash dishes and mop floors. We couldn't expect her to clean up after us. This went on and on. We couldn't treat her any differently than we would treat a man.

One of the "Old heads", an officer was in my class. He asked:

So, we have to treat her just like we treat the guys we hire.

Yes

We can't change the way we do things because she is a woman?

No

So, whatever we do now, we have to still do when she gets here?

Absolutely!

So, when she gets here, we have to make her wash dishes, and mop floors, and clean up after the guys and cook because that's what we make the new guys do.

The teachers eyes bug out, he stammers and stutters, I think he might have even twitched a bit. But you can't treat her like that he says.

But the officer says- "You said we can't treat her any differently than we treat our guys, so if we treat them like shit while their on probation, doesn't that mean we have to treat her like shit too?"

We-..I mean..but.. Long pause I guess so.

"Then why are we here?" and he gets up and walks out.

Turns out, that particular female did not get hired. But soon there after, one did. And I got to know her pretty well.


Our training wasn't quite as "emotional" as this video, but I thought you might enjoy a little Dennis Leary:

Caution, mature language.

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