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Proposal to recruit more women firefighters raises safety concerns

State lawmakers are considering a plan to attract more female firefighters, but critics say it could put fire crews – and the public – in danger.

John Craven

Jan 19, 2023, 11:12 PM

Updated 520 days ago

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State lawmakers are considering a plan to attract more female firefighters, but critics say it could put fire crews – and the public – in danger.
Caitlin Clarkson Pereira knows all about the lack of women in firefighting.
"I am one of the very few,” she said. “Here in Fairfield, we have two women on the job."
Just to get hired, Pereira had to pass a grueling Candidate Physical Ability Test. CPAT is an eight-step exam that requires recruits to carry 75 pounds of weight – on a StairMaster machine – for three straight minutes. If they grasp a rail for support even once, they fail the test.
"It is a lot,” Pereira said. “Especially when you weigh less."
Now, a new bill would "provide an alternative" to CPAT’s vest test component so “additional female candidates would qualify.” Nationally, only 5% of career firefighters are female, according to the National Fire Protection Association’s 2020 U.S. Fire Department Profile.
Longtime firefighters want to attract more women, but they say lowering physical standards is a dangerous idea.
"There are significant safety concerns with this bill,” said Frank Ricci, the retired New Haven firefighters union president. "The last fire I was in, in New Haven, I was trapped in a basement and pulled out by firefighter Matt Thomas. I knew he could physically do the job."
Hamden Mayor Lauren Garrett came up with the idea for the legislation after discovering her town has no female firefighters. She pushed back on the idea that testing with less weight means less capable firefighters.
"In the police department, there's a physical agility test that has to be taken, and there are standards based on age and gender,” said Garrett. “In the military, there are standards based on gender."
Garrett noted that some fire departments don’t even use CPAT. But Ricci said that altering the test opens departments up to potential legal liability.
Pereira isn't sure changing the CPAT test is the answer, but she does want to see more female firefighters.
"Taking the 75 pounds and making it 50 pounds just for women – I really strongly believe puts a target on our back,” said Pereira. “In some ways, I would say it makes a bigger target than the one we already have."
Pereira and Ricci both agree that Connecticut needs to offer female candidates more support for CPAT. Right now, the state only offers the test twice a year – and only at one location in Meriden.
"The answer, if we want to increase the passage rate for all candidates, is more mentoring and coaching, not lowering the bar that dangers public safety,” Ricci said.
Want to weigh-in on this bill? The General Assembly’s Public Safety Committee is expected to schedule a public hearing in the next few weeks.


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