Story at a glance
- Hotshots are firefighters who specifically battle wildfires, which have grown in size and number in recent years.
- Female firefighters can experience reproductive issues due to the nature of the job, as well as greater mental stress.
- Still, there is little research on the health risks posed to female hotshots, who are asking for more support.
More and more women are joining the ranks of the nation’s firefighters, making up about 8 percent of firefighters in the United States. But even as they battle back wildfires, female hotshots are working within a system — and even uniforms — designed for men.
“Women are being failed by a system that is intrinsically built around, and for, men,” Sara Jahnke, the director of the National Development & Research Institutes, told the Fuller Project.
Research on the health risks undertaken by female hotshots, who specifically battle wildfires, is limited. What they do know is that all firefighters with uteruses risk a higher rate of miscarriage and pre-term birth, all while dealing with discrimination that can cause higher mental stress.
Additional risks of firefighting, such as exposure to toxic chemicals and extreme heat, are compounded by the lack of proper uniforms for different bodies, Fuller found. As recently as 2019, a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and U.S. Fire Administration revealed improperly fitting gloves and other protective equipment that made some firefighters more susceptible to exhaustion, fatigue, smoke inhalation and breathing difficulty.
“I know this is not sustainable. Honestly, I don’t know how much more my body can take,” Sofia Huston, a 23-year-old hotshot, told the Fuller Project.
READ MORE STORIES FROM CHANGING AMERICA