What is The Difference Between a Fireman and Firefighter?

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The terms “Fireman” and “Firefighter” are often used interchangeably, but there is a subtle difference in their usage and connotation

Firefighting originally was considered a job only for men. Thus the term Fireman. Since then, women have long been accepted into the fire service, warranting the change to Firefighter to include both men and women alike.

All Firefighters (and Firemen) preform Ventilation and Fire Suppression, plus other Fire Related skills like Search and Rescue, House and Vehicle Extractions, and Scene Management (to name a few) when answering the Call. If you are looking to Thank a Firefighter, here’s 10 suggested ways to Thank First Responders.

Full length portrait of confident firefighters by truck at fire station

History of the term Fireman

Fireman is an older term that was used when firefighting was predominantly a male profession. It is still sometimes used today, but it is more likely to be used in a historical context or to refer to someone who excels at the craft of firefighting, regardless of gender.

Firefighter is a more modern and gender-neutral term that is now the preferred term for all people who work for fire departments and respond to emergencies.

The term ‘Firefighter’ goes all the way back 1716 when the fire brigade was established in Paris. They called those who worked on the brigade “Pompier”. Which translates to “Firefighter”.

The Term ‘Fireman’ has an unknown origin, but is likely steeped in the gender prejudices that other genders besides men have encounter. Many of the first Fireman were males, but others were females. In most instances, they were Volunteers (either involuntary as in punishment or slavery, or voluntary of their own free will)

However, other terms used in the First Responder realm are inherently gender neutral. For Example, ‘Officers’ are either gender, just like EMT’s or Paramedics.

Helmets, boots and jackets in a fire station ready to be used by firefighters.

Women in the Fire Service

While women in the fire service has never been more common than now, women still only make up about 5% of the total fire service. Which makes Female Fire Officers even less common.

Sources show that Women have been active in modern Firefighting since it’s inception, though many of the names of women firefighters in the 19th and early 20th centuries have simply been lost to the historical record.

It wasn’t until the 60’s and 70’s that the term ‘Firefighter’ was adopted to be more common language.

Should you use the term Fireman or Firefighter?

I’ve spoken with lots of Firefighters about this language, and most agree that Firefighter is the best description for the job. While many Women consider it an honor to be called a Fireman, and take back their power from generations of gender stereotypes, there is a lot of ‘weight’ associated with the term ‘Fireman’.

If you are writing a general article about firefighters, it is best to use the term “firefighter”. This is the most inclusive and accurate term.

If you are writing a historical article or about a specific firefighter who is known as a “fireman”, then it is okay to use that term. However, it is important to be aware that some people may find the term “fireman” to be dated or offensive

By using ‘Firefighter’ we can include everyone whose risked their lives to defend their community.

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