Superior commission OKs policy change to recruit more women firefighters

The change would allow the fire department to hire a pregnant woman who qualified for the certified hiring list. A firefighter would have one year from her time of hire to pass the test.

Engine 3 of the Superior Fire Department packs up hoses after extinguishing a fire at the Manning Motel in Superior in 2019.
Jed Carlson / 2019File / Superior Telegram

SUPERIOR — The Superior Fire Department has struggled to attract women to its ranks.

While Superior is slightly above the national average for female firefighters, one retirement would put the department below average, according to Fire Chief Camron Vollbrecht.

Fewer than 5% of all career firefighters in 2020 were women, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The city's Police and Fire Commission took a first step Thursday, March 9, to improve those numbers in Superior.

Commissioners made an exception to the city's hiring policy that would allow the fire department to hire a pregnant woman who qualified for the certified hiring list.

Because of a pregnancy, past candidates have not been able to complete the Candidate Physical Ability Test required prior to the second interview.


“If we’re not able to hire someone ... because of (pregnancy), it’s going to limit our ability to attract women to the fire department in the future," Vollbrecht said.

Superior commissioners agreed it was reasonable to give women who qualify up to a year from their time of hire to pass the test. The one-time exception is just the start of a broader discussion that could change the way firefighters are hired in the future.

“I have some concerns about that not being expanded beyond pregnant women,” said Cammi Janigo, human resources director. “That’s why we want to have a bigger discussion.”

After all, she said other temporary medical conditions could impede an individual’s ability to take and pass the physical ability test.

“What if you have a female with a broken arm, stuff like that?” Janigo asked.

Vollbrecht said while he originally asked for a change to the hiring process, he recognized that would require more discussion. He asked for a one-time exception with the goal of having a broader discussion before the next process to create the certified hire list.

Virginia, Hibbing and Cloquet all hire with a one-year window for CPAT, Vollbrecht said. Without a similar policy, he said it could put the Superior Fire Department at a disadvantage for recruiting female firefighters.

Shelley Nelson is a reporter with the Duluth Media Group since 1997, and has covered Superior and Douglas County communities and government for the Duluth News Tribune from 1999 to 2006, and the Superior Telegram since 2006. Contact her at 715-395-5022 or
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