Today, for Women’s History Month, I watched Firefighter, a 1986 television movie starring Nancy McKeon, of Facts of Life fame. You can watch it by going to www.youtube.com, then typing “Nancy McKeon Firefighter” into the search engine.
In my post, Phyllis Schlafly’s Positive Woman 8, I pasted the Internet Movie Database’s description of the movie: Cindy Fralic[k] (Nancy McKeon) plans to become a Los Angeles County firefighter. However, in the 60-year history of the department, no woman has ever passed the department’s physical skills test. Battling divorce, stereotypes and opposition from both men and women, Cindy Fralic passes the physical agility test to become the first female firefighter in Los Angeles County.
Parts of the movie were familiar to me, for my family watched it in 1986. I recognized the scene at the beginning of the movie, in which Cindy took off her helmet, revealing to us that one of the firefighters was a woman. I remembered her talking to an auditorium of young students on career day, telling her story of how she became a firefighter. I also recalled the scene in which a wild fire-hose moved around on the ground after Cindy dropped it. And I recognized the part in which her superiors instructed her to cut off her hair in accordance with regulations, and she did so, saying “I look like a boy” in a sullen tone as she looked in the mirror.
I was expecting to see a lot of sexism on the movie, and, granted, it was there. One of the captains flat-out stated that he didn’t believe women should be firefighters. The firemen’s wives were uncomfortable with their husbands sharing a bunk-room with a nice-looking woman like Cindy. And Cindy’s teammates were uncomfortable around her because they didn’t feel as if they could do their usual guy-stuff in her presence. Plus, none of the men could use the shower while Cindy was occupying it, and that was a pain. Cindy’s first husband left her, and, while her boyfriend after that (a fellow firefighter) admired Cindy because of her athletic and firefighting acumen, he wasn’t crazy about her wanting to become a fire-chief! He hoped that she’d have kids one day, with him! But (for some reason) she stuck with him, and that turned out as it turned out (however that was)!
But what surprised me was the vast number of people who were rooting for her. “You’d better see this—history is in the making,” one of the firemen said to a chief as Cindy was excelling at every physical task she was assigned, to the applause of her fellow applicants and the secretary who gave her the application. When Cindy wanted to quit because she didn’t like the pressure of being in the spotlight (e.g., being on the news, signing autographs, etc.), her male superior encouraged her to stick with program. It was like the first Indianapolis 500 in which Danica Patrick was racing and appeared for a few minutes as if she would win. Both men and women were moved by that because they believed they were witnessing history in the making!
I liked Cindy’s story of how she decided to become a firefighter. She was dissatisfied with her job as a meter-maid because she was always the “bad guy,” and she was inspired to become a firefighter when she saw some paramedics helping a sick person. She desired a job in which she could help people. After her husband left her, her best friend advised her to stop moping and to physically train for the firefighting exercises, even if she decided ultimately not to try out: “I don’t know if you’ll still feel the same way weeks from now, but, even if you decide at that point not to become a firefighter, at least you’ll be in great shape, and you’ll be able to beat up your husband!” I like the idea of being inspired to pursue a certain career path, and of undergoing the discipline of preparing for it, even if there’s a possibility that I’ll change my mind. As a teacher once told me, “God’s not an efficiency expert.” The teacher said this in reference to his own background. He majored in anthropology in college, then he switched to religious studies in graduate school. But he still drew from his anthropological background as he studied religion.
At the end of the movie, Cindy was more comfortable signing autographs. She embraced her role as an inspiration for people. That was another way she could help others—in addition to putting out fires and pulling people out of burning buildings!