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Men of the Hour / Did somebody say firemen?
National Review September 21, 2001
Men of the Hour Did somebody say "firemen"? By Kate O' Bierne
These men are fighting the first battle," Rudy Giuliani declared. "These are the men who will fight our wars," President Bush echoed during his visit to lower Manhattan. The mayor and the president weren't inspired by the city's "firefighters," they were talking about the firemen who raced into the burning towers that Tuesday morning, and their exhausted, bloodied, filth-covered brothers who desperately search the wreckage for a miracle. I wonder how many frustrated reporters searched just as desperately for a battle-scarred woman in uniform so there might be a pleasing politically correct Manhattan hero, but found only men doing the dangerous, demanding, dirty work of men.
Despite the attempts to integrate women into New York's fire department over the past 20 years, there are only 36 women in the 11,000-member force. A federal judge found in 1982 that the fire department's physical test for applicants improperly discriminated against women. Judge Charles Sifton ordered the department to water down the test and reserve up to 45 positions for women. One of the delighted female plaintiffs, who had failed the challenged test, explained, "I wasn't able to carry the dummy up and down a flight of stairs in the requisite amount of time, but I did very well on the mile run." The portion of the test that required carrying victims was eliminated, in favor of testing candidates on their ability to drag a 145-pound dummy along a marked path. Speaking of dummies, Judge Sifton had ruled that upper body strength was largely "irrelevant" to firefighting.
The fire department fought back in court, and every day in New York the current modified, but still-demanding, physical test proves its relevancy to the fearsome job of fighting fires. More than 40 percent of male applicants fail to make the requisite score on the present test. So, New York's Bravest remains 99.7 percent male.
The union defended its rigorous physical test from the feminist assault by arguing that the test discriminated against unqualified men and women alike. In contrast, the armed services surrendered to feminist demands. The military has adopted gender-normed scoring on physical tests and enlistment quotas to boost the number of women in the ranks. Kumbaya confidence courses have replaced ego-bruising obstacle challenges. Let's hope that stepstools will be provided for female soldiers in Afghanistan.
In the lull of peacetime, the extraordinary physical demands of combat became a less urgent concern for the world's sole remaining superpower. There is never a peacetime for the firemen of New York.
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