When Buildings Are Burning

Muscle Matters

A group of sixth-grade girls at a Christian summer camp sat on the grass in a circle. I was their teacher; our topic was the birth of Moses. “Why do you suppose Pharaoh wanted the midwives to kill the boy babies of the Israelites, but not the girl babies?” I asked.

One girl raised her hand. “The Egyptians thought the boy babies would grow up to be more dangerous to them,” she said. Then, choosing her words with great care, she added, “because people used to think that boys were bigger and stronger than girls.”

Common Sense

I abandoned Moses in the bulrushes and initiated an impromptu experiment, instructing the girls to look around and see if they could spot any man who was smaller than I am.

There were none.

But I’m on the small side even for women, so then I pointed out a man who was walking past. “Do you think he’s average-sized for a man?” They did. “Can you spot any adult woman who’s bigger than he is?” They couldn’t.

There are exceptions, of course, but as a general rule, men are larger and stronger than women.

The sixth-grade girls agreed that in their experience, men were bigger and stronger. “So why,” I asked, “might people say otherwise?”

“Because it’s not fair that boys are bigger,” one girl said.

“Because we want to do everything boys get to do,” another added.

When Size Matters

“Yeah, but sometimes what you want doesn’t matter,” one girl said bluntly. “It’s just the way things are.” She pointed at me. “If my house was on fire, I wouldn’t want her trying to carry me out.”

The others snickered.

“I’d try hard,” I said. “But yeah. I wouldn’t want me in that situation, either.”

My brother is a recently retired firefighter. He’s only in his early fifties, but it’s hard work, and it gets harder the older you get. The equipment is heavy, and it’s all essential—air pack, protective coat and pants, boots, helmet, facemask, gloves, radio, light. While wearing all that, you also need to heave ladders and hoses, and carry axes, pry bars, and saws. You need to be able to manage all that weight as you climb ladders or run up stairs. And you need to be able to carry all that weight while, as my young camper pointed out, also carrying an incapacitated person.

To do the job you must be strong and fit, and it helps to be naturally big, which is why my naturally slim five-foot-nine brother had to work harder to stay strong and capable than did his six-foot-five colleagues.

The strength requirement is not some arbitrarily applied standard. It’s crucial to the job. And yet, according to Aaron Sibarium at the Free Beacon,

Connecticut Democrats are working to lower the physical fitness requirements for female firefighters, saying that less onerous standards will make fire departments “more diverse.”

law introduced earlier this month in the Connecticut State Assembly would let women skip the Candidate Physical Ability Test, a timed gauntlet used by fire departments across the country. The test, which only 10 to 15 percent of women pass, requires candidates to complete intense physical tasks while wearing a 50 pound vest. It’s designed to simulate the experience of navigating a fire in heavy gear—and to weed out those unable to do so.

Sibarium notes:

Unlike in the military, where uniforms and equipment vary by gender, all firefighters wear the same gear, which weighs at least 59 pounds—9 more than the vest used for the physical assessment. That’s not including the weight of ladders, hoses, or other firemen, who must sometimes carry incapacitated colleagues on their shoulders. While a few pieces of protective gear now come tailored for women, most of the essential tools do not.

Some essential firefighting tools can’t be made lighter without compromising their effectiveness. Ladders need to be strong; saws need to be sturdy. It is what it is.

Can women be firefighters? Sure. But only if they are physically capable—really and truly capable—of doing the job. Statistically speaking, such women are few and far between. Pretending otherwise in the name of “diversity” or “gender equality” is only going to get people killed.

There is also this: By letting in women who cannot meet a common fitness standard, something is being stolen from the women who did meet the standards, namely the public knowledge that they earned their way onto the team the same way the men did—by passing the test.

Further Reading

PhD, is an editor for the Discovery Institute and the author of four dystopian novels and many shorter works, both fiction and non-fiction. Before turning to editing, she taught as an adjunct English and humanities professor. She and her husband homeschooled their three children.

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