All Fired Up

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Anne Wedow is, I trust, jubilant. So is her co-worker, Kathleen Kline. A jury awarded Wedow 285,000, and Kline 50,000, for getting steamed from wearing baggy clothes.

In case the matter isn’t obvious to you, here are the facts: Wedow and Kline are firemen. Er, make that firewomen. They joined the Kansas City Fire Department in 1977, as its first female firefighters. They were issued firefighting clothes designed for men, which were ill fitting and baggy. This caused them to sustain falls, and burns caused by steam and hot gasses entering the suits, especially Ms. Wedow. In addition, they were forced to share sleeping and bathing facilities with the men. Why, it’s enough to make a girl quit!

But quitting wasn’t in the cards; litigation was. Not only did a jury bestow upon them the cash awards mentioned above, but on March 24, the 8th Circuit Court in St. Louis issued a ruling, having the force of law (forget all that silliness about the division of powers, and only legislatures making laws!) that female firefighters must have "adequately fitting firefighting clothing and sanitary and private facilities–." Jennifer K. Brown, vice president and legal director of something called Legal Momentum said it was a "fantastic decision for female firefighters across the country," and described it as the first federal appellate ruling to equate inadequate equipment and facilities to unlawful sex discrimination. It also, in my opinion, says interesting things about this country, or at least about the people who control it.

In St. Louis, there are nineteen female and seven hundred male firefighters. That works out to over 97% male. Yet throughout the state, and the other states under the thumb of the 8th circuit (which I’ve heard local lawyers refer to as the 8th federal circuit of Siberia) firehouses will have to be remodeled to accommodate the women, meaning private sleeping quarters and bathing facilities. Special, no-doubt petite, firefighting clothes will need to be obtained for them. But, except for the judicial fiat, why? Is there some inherent advantage in having almost 3% female firefighters, sufficient to justify the expense of accommodating them?

It wouldn’t seem so. Indeed, the women themselves have complained about the hostile reception they received. Allegedly, one male firefighter affronted them with the remark, "If you want to be a guy so bad, we’ll all chip in and you can get surgery." Oh, the inhumanity!

But here’s the thing: democracy! Isn’t democracy just about the best thing that ever happened to human beings? Our government is so thrilled about it that it can’t keep it to itself, but is exploding it all over the place. Afghanistan has been democratized, and see how much better things are there now. The Iraqis are perhaps a bit reluctant to adopt democracy, being a people only a few millennia old, but we’re encouraging them to see its virtues, using bombs and rockets to underscore our commitment to bettering their lives, if any. And lucky Iranians will soon feel a soothing wave of democracy sweeping over them, like a tsunami.

Democracy is equated with majority rule, but in the case of the would-be firewomen, the vast majority of firefighters didn’t want them. Nor, to my knowledge, could the women demonstrate any advantages that would accrue to the fire department by hiring them (although they could demonstrate the disadvantages that would accrue from NOT hiring them, in the form of protracted litigation). But they got hired anyway, and now their employers will have to spend considerable amount of (other people’s) money to adapt their facilities to the wishes of the women. What a striking example of democracy: a fiat imposed by three mindless judges, on millions of people who will end up footing the bill, for the benefit of a small minority of firefighters!

Governments exist to guarantee justice. At least that’s the theory. In fact, they exist to perpetuate themselves, guaranteeing high-paying jobs to people of no particular ability except maintaining themselves in office as long as possible. Judges, like legislators, are susceptible to the latest sociologic fads, and democracy be damned if some strident minority makes demands, backed by an organized group of voters. Long-standing institutions will have to be turned upside down if feminists, or homosexuals, or the minority de jour, demand it. "Why rock the boat, when we’ve got it so nice," is the motto of the bureaucrat, although the boat’s smooth course is over the broken backs of a beleaguered citizenry.

There’s a lesson to be learned. If three percent can call the shots, what about those who aspire to freedom, and limited — if any — government? Aren’t we at least three percent? What would happen if we flexed our collective muscles? You know: democracy!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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