Strong Firefighters

People who want to be firefighters have to pass a physical test. That’s good.

But in certain places, the physical standards for women are lower than those for men. For example, maybe men have to bench press 200 pounds, but women only have to bench press 150 pounds.

I’ve always considered this to be the worst and scariest facet of political correctness. If a good firefighter should be able to lift 200 pounds, then we shouldn’t have firefighters who can’t. Regardless of sex.

[This is similar to Kevin’s discussion at about whether math is color-blind.]

So I started checking out some of the arguments for having different standards. And to my surprise, I found a pretty good one:

When testing is reality-based, then standards should be the same. But the tests aren’t reality-based. That is, how much you bench press may be a poor indicator of whether you can carry a person out of a burning building.

In fact, the bench press may be a decent indicator of how well men can carry a person, but it may not be a very good indicator for women. Women, typically having less upper-body strength, may use different methods from men when lifting heavy objects in real life.

It doesn’t mean that they can’t lift them. It just means that you can’t tell how well they’ll lift them by seeing how well they push a dead weight over their chests.

So we have these tests that may show how well a man can perform in real life, but not a woman. A women bench pressing 150 pounds may be better able to lift a body (because she uses her hips, let’s say) than a typical man with the same score.

As long as the tests show how well a man can perform, but not how well a woman can, there’s an argument for having different standards for women.

But once tests become more realistically designed (a 200 pound dummy on the ground, maybe, or a door that needs to be broken down), then we should eliminate any sexual distinction in testing.

I have no idea whether it’s true that women and men use different, but equally valid and speedy, methods to accomplish physical tasks. But I certainly see value in having reality-based testing, even aside from the sex issue. Realism should always be sought in testing.

For one thing, if there really are alternative lifting methods, it seems likely that some weaker men have joined women in developing them. Those men should be able to take realistic tests as well. Who knows, maybe we’d end up with larger, more diverse, and more imaginative fire departments.

[Begs a question: Is a more diverse fire department a better one? I think it is, as long as the core mission isn’t affected. The fire department has to deal with the public, so the more they can relate, within reason, the better.]

One Response to Strong Firefighters

  1. Kevin Priest June 29, 2006 at 10:16 am #

    Excellent point on creating tests the really do test the required skill or ability. A 200 pound dummy is a much better test than a bench press. Similarly, I think the reality of the test makes it impossible to continue separate standards for men & women. If you hear that women have to lift less weight than men, you might say, well, that’s fair. If you hear that women only have to drag a 150 pound body out of the fire, you think, wait a minute, I’m 180 pounds! Fire that woman!

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