Women Firefighters| Volume 29, ISSUE 5, P424-431, September 2019

Women Firefighters’ Health and Well-Being: An International Survey

Published:March 28, 2019DOI:



      This study aimed to identify specific health and well-being issues that women firefighters may experience as part of their daily working practices. Issues identified from this under-represented population can drive future research, education, and strategy to guide safety and health practices.


      A total of 840 women firefighters from 14 separate countries (255 United Kingdom and Ireland, 320 North America, 177 Australasia, and 88 mainland Europe) completed the survey over a 4-month period. Questions related to general health and well-being and role-specific health concerns, gender-related issues, and available exercise facilities.


      Women firefighters in North America reported a higher prevalence of lower back (49%) and lower limb (51%) injuries than all other groups. North American respondents reported more heat illnesses (45%) than respondents from other places (36%). Although many participants did not respond, of those who did, 39% thought the menstrual cycle (199/512) or menopause (55/151) affected their work, and 36% were concerned for their ability to meet future job demands. Sixteen percent felt confident they could complete the role after 60 years of age. Women firefighters identified a lack of strength and conditioning support (50%) or lack of gym access (21%). There appears to be poor availability of female-specific personal protective equipment, with availability greatest in the United Kingdom (66%) compared with the sample as a whole (42%).


      There is a need for female-specific strength and conditioning support and facilities to decrease injury and illness risk and improve longevity. Research and education into gynecological issues, heat exposure, and their effects on women firefighters’ fertility and cancer risk is required.
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      Emily R. Watkins, BSc, PhD, is a physiologist at the University of Brighton. She completed her PhD, working with Fire Service Instructors to investigate their heat tolerance and immunological responses to frequent heat exposures.


      Anthony Walker, PhD, is a Station Officer, Australian Capital Territory Fire & Rescue service, Canberra, Australia. His research centered on preparing firefighters/tactical populations to work in extreme environments to explore physical preparation through tailored, evidence-based conditioning programs and safe operating procedures.


      Eric Mol, MSc, is an occupational/exercise physiologist. He developed the role-based physical abilities test for Dutch police officers and helped to create the periodical preventive medical test for Dutch firefighters. He is a Research & Development Advisor at the Dutch Safety Board.


      Sara Jahnke, PhD, is Director and Senior Principal Investigator, Center for Fire, Rescue & EMS Health Research within the National Development & Research Institutes. She focuses on cardiovascular risk factors, cancer, injury risk, mental health, and women in the fire service.


      Alan Richardson, BSc, PhD, is Principal Lecturer, Exercise and Environmental Physiology, University of Brighton. He focuses on tolerance to hypoxia/severe heat exposure. He has led research projects with the National Fire Service investigating the health/thermal loading of fire fighters and instructors.