I can sympathize, to a point, with the female firefighters in Fairfax County who have sued the county and several volunteer fire departments ["Firefighters Say Fairfax Discriminates," Metro, July 6].
During my time as a volunteer firefighter, the female firefighters, both career and volunteer, performed as well as, if not better than, their male counterparts. In fact, the only time I was aware of deficient performance by a female firefighter, the individual was a volunteer and didn't last long, by her own choice. I had thought that by now, the sort of "boys' club" mentality that pervaded the department when I was a volunteer had faded, but apparently it hasn't.
Female firefighters have to complete the same rigorous training as their male counterparts and must maintain the same levels of proficiency throughout their careers. If they perform in a proper manner, then they deserve the same respect, including facilities, that their male co-workers get.
My sympathy with their plight, however, ends when they demand to be treated differently. Although the article said the plaintiffs "emphasized that they are not seeking special treatment for women, only equal treatment," it also said that one plaintiff, Carolyn Ruwe, was upset that she had to resign because department officials wouldn't "develop a flexible schedule in which she wouldn't have to sometimes work 24 hours straight."
Back in the '80s, the professional firefighters in Fairfax County fought long and hard to switch from a four days/four nights/four off shift to a 24-hour shift. This shift structure allowed firefighters to spend more time with their families, because it kept them away from home for fewer days during any particular tour. The 24-hour shift has been part of the life of county firefighters for over 20 years now. To request a change to that schedule to accommodate Ms. Ruwe's needs, or the needs of any one person, and to be upset because she didn't get it, is the definition of asking for special treatment, and it taints what otherwise sounds like a perfectly legitimate lawsuit.