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VIFR responds: Women already fare quite well at the fire department
By JASON EVERETT
For The Beachcomber
The recent judgment against Vashon Island Fire and Rescue (VIFR) for “wrongly denying a paid position” to a female volunteer firefighter and citing ongoing harassment of this and other women might give community members the wrong impression about the role of women in our department. The facts, however, paint a different picture.
VIFR values women in the fire service and has a long history of women responders and officers. The editorial of last week’s paper cited the national average for women in the fire service as 3.7 percent and stated that Vashon should do better. Vashon does in fact do better. Of VIFR’s paid responders, 17 percent are women; of the volunteer responders, 38 percent are women; and of the four paid officer positions two are held by women, a significant 50 percent.
It is important to note that most of us who get hired in the fire service spend many years and persevere through numerous denials before we finally get a coveted job as a firefighter. I myself applied to over 70 different departments for over four years before I was finally hired. This was the first time Ms. Hackett had applied for a job in the fire service and then claimed gender discrimination when she was not immediately successful.
The article also quoted the judge who cited Ms. Hackett’s testimony about Chris Huffman, one of our members. Chris was described as “one of the most flagrant and frequent perpetrators of gender discrimination in the department.”
First of all, Chris is not in a position to discriminate in any manner whatsoever as he is not involved in the hiring process. Furthermore, Chris has nothing but letters of commendation in his personnel file, is a respected and dedicated professional in our department and was not given the opportunity to refute the claims made against him in court.
This is a job of life and death, and there is little room for mediocrity. Chris can be a tough and demanding trainer, and many of us, including myself, have been the recipients of his intense teaching style. I know I am not alone when I say that I am a better firefighter for it, and we as a union stand behind Chris Huffman.
Finally, I want to assure everyone in the community that despite the outcome of this lawsuit, we are professionals at VIFR, and when you call us, you will be treated professionally. We are here to serve you and promise to do so with care and the utmost respect.
— Jason Everett, president of Vashon Island Firefighters IAFF Local 4189, was hired as a firefighter in 2005.