November 7, 2006 in City

It’s a woman’s world, too

By The Spokesman-Review
Holly Pickett photo

Lt. Darci Frasier, left, jokes with Lt. Scott Himelspach, right, and firefighter D.J. Hill while they move into the remodeled Spokane Fire Station 1 Friday. The station now has bathroom facilities for female firefighters that are as large as those for the men.
(Full-size photo)

Gone are the days when Spokane Fire Lt. Darci Frasier might bump her head on a bathroom fixture while bending over to put her socks on in the restroom at Fire Station 1.

With the completion of a six-month remodel, the nearly 30-year-old station now has bathroom facilities for female firefighters that are as large as the facilities for men.

Call it a sign of the times.

Before, “there would sometimes be three or four women on duty,” Frasier said. “And we’d threaten to take over the men’s bathroom.”

Spokane Fire Department’s chief describes the change as much needed.

“We had the ability to accommodate women, but it was limited,” said Fire Chief Bobby Williams. “When we did the remodel, we thought it was important to fix it.”

Spokane Fire Department has 16 female firefighters, officials said.

Two women are assigned to Station 1.

The renovation was one of the last projects remaining from the 1999 bond issue, which also paid for construction and relocation of stations 4 and 18, some new firetrucks, life-saving equipment and firefighter personal protective gear, said Asst. Chief Brian Schaeffer. The Station 1 remodel cost about $500,000.

The building is 31,284 square feet, Williams said. Besides the training facility, it’s the largest station. The department has 14 stations throughout the city, all of which have been updated to accommodate both sexes.

Nine firefighters and a battalion chief are assigned to Station 1 each day. The Fire Department’s administration also works out of the building at 44 W. Riverside.

Frasier was pleased on her first day back on duty at the remodeled station, despite some unpacking that still needed to be done. After she demonstrated how cramped the old bathroom used to be, she showed off the new facilities. With three showers, several lockers, two sinks and two bathroom stalls the women can change comfortably.

Frasier referred to the station’s overall remodel as a nice change from the “old dingy dungeon.”

The 39-year-old fire lieutenant was hired by the department in 1992. Before testing to become a firefighter, Frasier worked in construction, at Taco Time and on a fishing boat in Alaska.

“I had no idea women were firefighters … anywhere,” Frasier said. “Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Frasier has faced obstacles in the male-dominated profession, but after 14 years she and the men have adapted.

“The guys and I have a good rapport,” said Frasier of the crew she works with at Station 1. The newer, younger guys are the toughest. “For some men, the title of firefighter makes them feel macho, and having a woman supervisor threatens that.”

But Frasier doesn’t back down, and eventually the younger firefighters figure out she’s earned her place in the Fire Department.

“I’ve talked to women all over the country, and it can be so much worse,” Frasier said. “Spokane is progressive.”

Spokane Valley Fire Department currently has no female firefighters, Chief Mike Thompson said. But during an upcoming recruitment, he plans to make hiring women and minorities a priority.

Spokane Fire Department hired its first three women in 1989, and the last one was hired in 1998.

“All of our female firefighters have done well in promotions,” Williams said. “The way it works is the person who tests number one gets promoted, and several of the women firefighters have done that.”

At Spokane Fire Department, women hold the positions of fire marshal, assistant fire marshal and deputy fire marshal in prevention, and five have been promoted to lieutenant.”

Earlier this year, Frasier had the rare opportunity of working on an all-woman crew out of Fire Station 18. The threesome knew their time together was limited, but they enjoyed it while it lasted.

Frasier recalled one day when the three of them were between emergencies. She was crocheting, Bridget Luby was filing her nails, and Shannon Morse was doing something feminine and crafty when their captain walked in.

The captain just looked at the three women, threw his arms up and left.

“That was a blast,” Frasier said.

While all Spokane fire stations are now equipped with separate bathroom facilities, the men and women firefighters still sleep in a common area. Each bed is separated by a wall with storage for their belongings during the 24-hour shift.

“It was weird at first,” said Frasier of sleeping in the same room with her male co-workers. “Now it’s like a big slumber party. The guys giggle all night.”

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