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Female Firefighters

© Lauren Greenfield

The majority of Oakland’s fire service is made up of women, a staggering contrast from the 0.6% population of female firefighters nationwide. In Oakland’s Fire Department, there are no gender lines and women are on par with men in rank, respect, and ability.

Competitive endurance and strength come naturally for women like Betsy Kimmel, 43, of Station 25, a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic rowing team, who Officer Edward Llamas calls the “cardio queen” and says can run stairs better than most of the men.

When the male firefighters were asked about differences between them and the females, many struggled to think of anything significant. Not until a HAZMAT (hazardous materials) terrorist threat was wrapped and Linda Buell, 36, of Station 3, handed the team hand sanitizing wipes that Dan Keenan, 51, observed, “Only women remember stuff like that.”

Firewoman Damien Paraskevopoulos, 35, explains that fierce competition as well as seamless teamwork erases gender distinctions in the field. “Everyone wants the hose in a fire. I have to be ready and can’t hesitate for a second. One of the guys grabbed the hose from me once when I had to adjust my mask and I just pulled it right back.”

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