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Are Physical Tests For Emergency Service Jobs Unfair To Women?

Debate is raging after a push to lower physical requirements for firefighters was met with opposition by the union.

Inconsistencies with the assessment criteria of the simulated rescue of a 90-kilogram mannequin at Tasmania Fire Service's training centre, led to employees walking off the job this week.

Some within the industry have sought to lower the weight to 65kg.

A Tasmanian spokesperson from the United Firefighters Union of Australia told 10 daily the industry welcomes women, sexually and ethnically diverse people -- but provided they can do the job.

"But you wouldn't want an accountant to do your tax return if they don't have a good grasp of numbers," the spokesperson said.

This is the height of a rescue as required by ACT fire authorities. IMAGE: supplied

Recruits are subjected to multiple fitness tests, including a simulated casualty rescue, where candidates drag a dummy through a course within a specified timeframe.

This week, concerns were flagged by firefighter recruiters that 90kg was too high, and above the expectations of other states -- which, they claim, renders it nearly impossible to for females to pass.

"It's only fair that people can do the job, it is detrimental and dangerous if they aren't capable of getting out of life or death situations," the union spokesperson said in defence.

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Other states have lower strength requirements for fire fighters, as low as 72kg. NSW Police requires applicants to pass a hand grip test which involves a minimum 30kg on each hand.

IMAGE: supplied

When asked why Tasmania appears to have more stringent requirements than other state fire authorities, the spokesperson said its because the state's fire services aren't as well resourced.

"You don't always have dozens of trucks to back you up. So we need the person to be able to carry a colleague who is also wearing equipment," they said.

A Tasmania Fire Service spokeswoman said the mannequin's weight would remain at 90kg, but that would be reviewed after this year's recruitment process.

Firefighting A "Blokey Boys Club"

In South Australia, of the service's 890 full-time staff, only 17 are women and 95 percent are white males.

The state's Metropolitan Fire Service has pledged to break up its "blokey culture" and do more to encourage women to join its firefighting ranks.

READ MORE: NSFW: Runaway Parrot Saves Herself, Tells Rescuer To F*** Off

A report released last week, commissioned by the fire service, found female officers suffered bullying, harassment and discrimination in the "blokey boys club" male-dominated workforce.

In Queensland, there are about 1500 permanent firefighters but less than 100 are women.

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There are currently just 39 women among 1058 career firefighters in Western Australia.

On its website, the Victorian fire services said it's seeking to recruit people "with diverse backgrounds, skills and experiences."

"We currently have 78 female firefighters, which represents 3.83 per cent of our operational workforce," a spokersperson told 10 daily.

In the states latest recruitment round in February 2019, 965 women applied to become a firefighter with either Metropolitan Fire Brigade or Country Fire Authority, which is triple the number of women who applied during the last round of recruitment.

Other State And Territory Requirements

Physical requirements to become a firefighter differ from state to state. This includes the rescue weight requirement, as well as how high firefighters need to lift or carry colleagues or members of the public during a rescue.

In NSW, "all recruits must complete the 'firefighter rescue' simulated task which is equivalent to dragging approximately a 100kg firefighter wearing structural firefighting personal protection equipment for 10m."

In Victoria candidates must lift a 72kg mannequin to chest height and, walking backwards, drag it around a 45-metre course.

In Queensland, recruits need to be able to carry a 78kg mannequin -- meant to represent the average Australian's weight -- equipped with a harness incorporating shoulder and chest handles,  and drag it 11 metres.

The police force in Queensland is also pushing for more female recruits.

This year the service graduated its first group of recruits under a new 50-50 gender diversity policy.

It also expects recruits to be able to drag a person, weighing 75kg, 30 metres away from a fire, serious road accident or explosion.

NSW police requires applicants to pass a hand grip test which involves a minimum 30kg on each hand.

Contact the author alattouf@networkten.com.au