- Associated Press - Sunday, July 19, 2015

PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) - The director of New Hampshire Fire Standards and Training says bullying and a rigorous physical entrance exam are the principle reasons why only one percent of New Hampshire’s 8,000 full-time firefighters are women.

Director Deb Pendergast tells the Portsmouth Herald (https://bit.ly/1LwSEw2 ) that the agility test is given once a year for men and women. She said an average of 10 women take it and three of fewer pass.

She said the test is difficult for both genders, and an average of 40 percent fail it.

Pendergast said women make up 16 percent of the San Francisco Fire Department, while Manchester’s fire department has no women.

“There’s still bullying going on,” Pendergast said. “Unfortunately, so many departments are not accepting of women. I hear so many stories.”

David Lang, president of Professional Firefighters of New Hampshire, said his organization has been working hard to encourage and recruit female firefighters.

“It takes the fire departments to go out and actually recruit and welcome these (women) candidates,” Lang told the newspaper. “These are public jobs and there should be the expectation that the jobs are available to all.”

Lang said his union fought to have the annual entrance exam scored on a pass or fail basis, as opposed to numerical scores, in part to be able to recruit more women.

Lang said another obstacle to women in firefighting is the 24-7 firefighting schedule and family demands that mothers face.

Caslugh “Cassie” Chamberlain, 26, is the newest member of the Portsmouth Fire Department, joining four-year department veteran Tamara Frechette.

Before coming to Portsmouth, Chamberlain worked for three years as a firefighter in Notthingham, where there were three women on a department that serves a population of fewer than 5,000 people.

She said she applied to be on the Portsmouth Fire Department “because of their history of diversity.”

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