Detroit Fire Department History – May 16th – Applications For Female Firefighters Accepted

Today in DFD History – May 16th, 1977

Detroit Fire Department accepted it’s first applications for female firefighters.  In September 20th of that year, Harriett Saunders, Sandy Kupper and Theresa Smith graduated from training academy and were assigned to E-21, E-32 and E-55. 

first three dfd ladies

Harriett Saunders, Sandy Kupper and Theresa Smith – Detroit Fire Department’s first 3 females firefighters.

As you might imagine, this was a very conterversial move for the department.  Many people believed that women would not be able to perform the duties necessary as firefighters.  Wives of many Detroit Firefighters expressed concerns over the lack of seperate sleeping quarters and bathroom facilities. 

Opinions about the abilities of female to perform in the field still vary.  It’s been 36 years since the first ladies were hired in Detroit.  Many have come and gone. Many left Fire Operations for jobs in Divisions, and some have stayed.  

The ones that stayed in the field have often earned the reputation of being as tough or tougher than some of the guys.  They have earned respect, sometimes from their toughest critics.  It wasn’t easy, but firefighting isn’t easy regardless of your gender.

Photo by SNweb

Joyce Stoll joined the Detroit Fire Department during the early years of Detroit hiring female firefighters. She has risen through the ranks and is currently Chief 7. You would be very hard pressed to find a critic of Joyce’s abilities among the ranks of the department.Photo by Sean Doerr of SNweb photography

What has your experience with female firefighters shown about the ability for females to perform firefighting duties? 

If you are a female firefighter, what do you think the biggest challenges for women in the fire service are today?

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