The small town of Sysmä in southern Finland has earned the distinction of becoming home to Finland's first gender neutral fire station.
A key feature of Sysmä's new fire house are individual dressing rooms and showers, which allows all firefighters to wash at the same time in private dressing and shower cabins and is seen as a capital boost to inclusion. Previously, women and men at the station used to take turns showering, a female firefighter recalled.
“We are planning this facility 40 years into the future. We believe fire stations will see more gender equality in the coming years”, Taneli Rasmus, former technical director in the municipality, told national broadcaster Yle.
Finland's oldest fire stations date to the 1800s. At some, cleaning cupboards have been used as women's changing rooms.
According to Mira Leinonen, who leads the Women in Fire and Rescue Services Commission, Finland has room for improvement in combatting exclusion. According to her, being excluded undermines group cohesion and diminishes work satisfaction, and international studies suggest these factors often spur women into leaving the profession.
“When a rescue operation is finished, the crew head straight to the shower, often discussing their last job. Women are excluded from these conversations”, Leinonen lamented.
However, there are other negative factors that allegedly discourage women from choosing firefighting as their occupation. The entire sector, Leinonen argued, rests on the male norm, which calls for a drastic change in structures, gear, and attitudes. For instance, petite women struggle wearing uniforms and gear specifically designed for men. Leinonen cited a female firefighter who even had a baby in a her uniform.
“Rescue services are for everyone, so it should be a priority for our personnel to reflect society as a whole”, Leinonen concluded.
In Finland, there are some 5,000 professional firefighters who are full-time employees and approximately 15,000 in voluntary brigades. At present, about ten percent of Finland's contract firefighters are female. Some 30 women work as fire chiefs.
According to the Interior Ministry, which regulates fire fighting, some 12,000 fires are extinguished every year.