Dear Nozzlehead: I just came back from a national fire show, and while I thought it was a great program, I was surprised at how many of the exhibitor booths had half-dressed women-some claiming to be firefighters-working the booth and displaying their bods. While I like women, it was weird to be walking around with my wife with these women dressed like that. I spend a lot of time convincing my wife that we are professional at my fire department, and these women on display didn’t help my cause. Maybe it’s me, but what’s the deal with fire-service dealers and manufacturers having these women show off their front and rear ends at fire conferences? Am I just out of touch?
-Wondering in the West
Several years ago, someone wrote me a very similar letter, and my response has not changed. While?I joke about a lot of stuff and try and keep things in perspective, quite frankly, the more?I see women firefighters posing at these shows, the more I have difficulty accepting the role of those women in the fire and rescue service. Sorry, that’s just how?I feel. There is absolutely NO reason for those women firefighters?to be dressed the way they are other than to exploit themselves. And while exploiting their gender may be good in some cases, in this case, they are strictly using their physical appearance to attract men to the booth. And some of them are not firefighters but rather just hot women hired by the company to display their bodies to get firefighters to “take a look.”
Because I feel the same way about this issue now as I did several years ago, what follows is an excerpt from the April 2003 Nozzlehead, “Fire Hotties,” p. 12.
“I have attended fire shows for nearly 35?years and have always gained information and knowledge from the items on display. I also enjoy watching the many different methods the exhibitors use to sell their products. They remind me of those old Wild West or turn-of-the-century movies where different community businesses did whatever it took to attract customers-early marketing strategies. Sometimes they would display a nice wooden sign with the word ‘Saloon’ and a drawing of a beer carved into it. Others would show off a striped pole, indicating the business was a barbershop. Still others had women lounging around on the front porch or hanging out a window with their front-end discharges busting out of their dresses and blouses. Were they advertising? Hell yeah! They were advertising what they had for sale, or should I say what their business owners were pimping (er, selling). Ah, marketing ? what a wonderful concept. Like it or not, that’s the way it was and sometimes still is. And that’s exactly what some of the exhibitors look like at almost all of the fire shows and conferences.
“Naturally (or sometimes silicone,?ain’t it?), vendors at professional fire-service trade shows aren’t advertising women for the same purposes as mentioned above. But then what are they using these women for? (I’m not going to discuss whether these women degrade themselves … the answer is very clear.?I personally don’t give a damn what they do to earn their living. If they want to stand in front of a trade-show booth with their air horns sticking out, more power to ’em.) Let’s focus on what exhibitors have to do-surround their booths with Anna Nicole’s twin cousins-in order to get some of us to look at their booths and accidentally see their products. To me, that’s the issue.
“Many excellent fire-service manufacturers and sellers exist. The majority in the business spent years developing their products to ensure they will make a difference in our jobs. With that said, there are also a lot of crap products out there that can only be sold via extreme marketing tactics, such as having Miss Implant 2006 stand in front of the booth so the boys (and some girls! Nozzlehead recognizes a woman’s right to ogle other women, and will always support that right) will pay attention to their product. Simply put: If a manufacturer has to use a woman (and that’s exactly what they’re doing, using the woman) to spark interest in their product, they may want to reconsider the product’s value.
“When I brought up this point to a vendor, he said, ‘Just look at them lining up at our booth!’ OK, Mr. Hefner, they line up, but not to see your turnout coat. They line up to see Miss Air Bags 2006. The vendor went on to say, ‘Yeah, but once we have them in the booth, we can sell, sell, sell!’ I doubt it. Sure, a few firefighters who don’t get out much may become overwhelmed by?that woman’s ‘features’?and get conned into buying that vendor’s stuff, but they are few and far between …. In fact, I know numerous decision makers who will absolutely NOT look at a product for that reason.
“How about this: Manufacturers develop good, safe and fairly priced products, set up displays that draw us in because of firefighter safety, and then we buy, buy, buy. As far as I’m concerned, manufacturers that use women or men in the manner described above are whoring us as much as some of our city councils and mayors. Think about that the next time you walk down the exhibit aisles …
“Another issue is the calendars. Some manufacturers allow calendar girls and boys to use their booths to sell their calendars for charity. Although the charities are great, I still say the vendor who runs the booth is using the Tah-Tah Twins, the Pee Wee Brothers and their charities to benefit their booth-not the charity. They’re using you to sell their stuff. ‘But Nozzlehead, what about the fact that we are raising money for a charity, and the vendor lets us work their booth?’ Dear Bodacious: Wake up. If the manufacturer really gives a damn about you and your charity, let them write you a big fat check.
“I understand fully that the charities are operating to raise money for burn victims and related good causes. In those cases, they should rent (or ask for free) booth space so the focus is on showing skin to raise money for charity. Face it, you’ll sell calendars because some of our brothers and sisters like that stuff and support your cause. The using part starts when you appear in vendor booths. Then the issue becomes very cloudy to some-and clearer to others: You’re displaying overly inflated air bags to support the fat cat in the back. I’m not a big screamer about the women’s movement. (Whatever that is. The last woman’s movement I took part in occurred when I moved my ex-mother-in-law and her daughter?to a different state.) But I’m a big fan of and have decades of earned pride in the fire service. I can’t stand some of the stuff some vendors try to sell us, and when they disguise it with half-naked?Betty Boobs, I wonder whether their products can stand on their own merits.”
That’s how I felt about this issue then and how I feel about it now. Am I against women and manufacturers having the right to do this? ‘Course not, this is America-do what you want. Do?I think it’s offensive? Well these days, it seems everything offends someone, and it’s a shame that we’ve become that sensitive in some cases.?With so many good women and other non-traditional fire-service members working hard to simply succeed, this doesn’t help the cause. Understand that having these half-dressed women firefighters displaying their appearances-not their professional abilities-at a fire trade show is equivalent to having a great meal … served to you in a public bathroom. The two need to be separated.