When Neil Armstrong planted his boot on the surface of the moon, it was because technological and cultural innovation collided. His ability to effectively maneuver, safely operate and feel the surface beneath his feet contributed to both the mission’s success and a change in American thinking about science, technology and the world as we know it.
As the demographics of our communities change, the fire and emergency service has come to a similar crossroad, but instead of men on the moon, it’s women in the firehouse. And it’s not a boot; it’s a glove.
The International Association of Women in Fire and Emergency Services (iWomen) is currently working with the NFPA on a project that would involve the research and design of women's firefighting gloves. iWomen has submitted the information for the Code Fund Project, which is just the first step in a long process.
This issue is no different from many other technological innovations that have been applied to personal protective equipment over the years. Innovation in PPE is critical to the safety of firefighters, and we know that proper fit is paramount for safety and proper protection.
Anatomically, men’s and women’s hands are different in many ways. The joint breadth, hand circumference and hand length, as well as the ratio of palm to fingers, are all different. One source iWomen found in its initial research stated that there are as many as 25 dimensions applicable to measuring a hand. Based on that information, a complex design is required to develop these gloves.
One thing is certain: women don’t want to sacrifice thermal protection for a little more dexterity. But issuing men's gloves of a smaller size to women doesn’t equate to providing them properly fitting gloves.
As the project progresses, iWomen and the NFPA will look closely at similar advancements in other industries, such as the U.S. military’s recent rollout of a line of military gear specifically designed for women, to see what insights and lessons can be applied to the fire and emergency service.
The time it takes to research, develop and design any article of personal protective clothing is considerable, but the investment is one that iWomen believes will create a positive return for the entire service. Just as Neil Armstrong’s boot on the moon created a fixed point of positive technological and cultural shift in our collective experience, so too will the first time a woman steps into a fire with a perfectly gloved hand. Her ability to effectively maneuver, safely operate and feel the surface a hose line, radio or ladder beneath her hand will contribute to both the mission’s success and a change in our collective thinking about science, technology and the world as we know it.
Jeanne Pashalek is the president of iWomen and a battalion chief with Lincoln (Neb.) Fire and Rescue.