For the first time in 40 years, the Park City Fire District has no female firefighters
There are no female firefighters employed by the Park City Fire District for the first time since the 1980s, a reality that district leaders attribute to a difficult hiring climate, but which has drawn criticism from ‘at least one former employee.
Park City Fire Chief Bob Zanetti says it has rarely been more difficult to hire qualified candidates and that few female candidates apply in an industry nationally made up of over 90% male .
“It’s not good,” he said of the lack of female firefighters.
Shellene Vetterli, a retired former Park City firefighter, sees a different reason, however. She says the lack of female firefighters is the result of leadership decisions that have created an unwelcoming culture for women.
“There are no women at Park City Fire, and this is the first time in over 40 years. And it’s not normal in the Utah fire department to have no wives, ”said Shellene Vetterli, a retired former Park City firefighter. “We are the lowest of all the departments. And I think that’s a red flag, and me and the other women want the community to know that zero is not okay and it’s not typical, and that’s just not the way services fire of the country are moving. “
She said recruiting, hiring and promoting firefighters in the district reinforces the idea that firefighters should be white males.
Zanetti took issue with the idea that the district does not want female firefighters, instead highlighting a tough hiring market, the low number of female firefighters nationwide and the low number of women applying to work in the district. .
He confirmed that there had been no female firefighters working for the district since the departure of two women in July. He said it was the first time the district had not employed a female firefighter since the 1980s.
The district is preparing to hire a new generation of firefighters, its largest class on record. All are men. Of the total 138 employees in the district, 20 are women.
Zanetti said the district sees between 80 and 120 applicants in a typical year and that in a strong year 5% could be women. In some years, no woman applies. And the district only hires a small percentage of applicants.
“Obviously, the numbers in our district are not where they need to be,” Zanetti said.
The Summit County Council controls the district budget. Council Chairman Glenn Wright said recruiting firefighters is not easy, especially in today’s job market.
“We asked the Administrative Review Board, ‘Are there things we can improve for recruiting?’ He said, referring to the authority that oversees the district. “I think it’s something they need to work on, and I think we can.”
Zanetti said the district is recruiting from social media, colleges, high school EMT classes and from the ranks of local ski patrols and the military.
State law requires veterans to be given preference for hiring, Zanetti said. He was not sure whether other categories of applicants could benefit from similar advantages. He indicated that he did not believe that such a step was justified for the candidates.
“I don’t think we need to go now,” he said.
According to a 2020 study by the National Fire Protection Association on the basis of data collected in 2018, 8% of firefighters in the country are women; half of them are career firefighters.
These numbers have grown nationally over the past 20 years, but not the number of women in the Park City Fire District ranks.
Vetterli said women have left the district because its policies are hostile to women, there are no women in leadership positions and no prospects for career advancement. She also said the district has gained a statewide reputation among potential firefighter candidates.
Zanetti estimated that the last time the district promoted a woman was in 2010. He denied that the district had a bad reputation and said if there were issues with the culture, he would know.
Vetterli said she had not been harassed by other firefighters while working for the district and enjoyed working with her colleagues. The problem, she said, was leadership.
She said she was not promoted despite high test scores, experience and training positions. She said she tried to start a diversity and mentoring program, but was turned down by a supervisor, who indicated the district was not interested. And she said the women weren’t given any promotions.
Zanetti was appointed chef this summer after serving as deputy chef for years under former chef Paul Hewitt, who died this year in a workplace accident.
Zanetti said one of his first acts was to create eight new EMT positions, which he considers attractive to people considering a career as a firefighter, including women. The positions offer a way to mentor potential firefighters considering a career, he said, and a less intensive first step in the career.
“My personal feeling is that diversity has to be action. And I feel like I’m taking action, ”he said. “Because it won’t happen on its own. If you wait for it to happen, in my experience in the fire department, it won’t.
Vetterli started as a volunteer paramedic in the district in 1996 and was hired as a full-time paramedic in 2000. She said she voluntarily left the district in 2017 and subsequently retired from service. South Salt Lake City fire. Her father and brother were both Park City firefighters, she said.
She said the district would be best served by a diverse team of firefighters.
“You know, 47% of Park City are women, and most of those calls are medical. You’re going to meet a lot of women, and sometimes women feel more comfortable around women,” she said. said. “… If 24% are Latino, it helps to have people who may know Spanish or who are familiar with the culture, put people at ease so that you can better assess them. Even on fire calls it helps to have diversity You make a stronger decision and provide better service if the diversity makes a decision together.
Zanetti said the district has no shortage of Spanish speakers and there are other tools available to communicate with Spanish speakers, including other first responders, dispatchers and translation apps.
He said the district’s hiring practices focused on finding the strongest firefighters and said he was confident in the service provided by the district.
“I feel people are quite happy to see us come when they need it,” he said. “… I think it’s a bigger problem that we can solve whatever problem we have: someone drowning, someone stuck in a car, someone (whose) house is in. fire. I think overall you want, when you call 911, you want this problem fixed. “
Vetterli said her motivation for speaking out was to draw attention to the problem and ask the community if they wanted a fire department without female firefighters.
“It’s not fair,” she said. “I’m from Park City and educated here. You should stand up for what you believe in, that’s how I was educated in Park City. I care about Park City. These are the people who come to my house if I have an emergency. I think it should be a diverse, strong, skilled and competent group. “