Female Orange County firefighters participate in study for new gear

Data could help manufacturers design gear better suited for women

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – The number of female firefighters is growing in Orange County and across the country, but what's not changing is the way their gear fits -- until now. 

Thanks to efforts from researchers from more than a dozen universities across the country and the female voice, a study is underway to make sure firefighters can do their job without fear their gear will interrupt their duties. 

Shannon Zielonka has been a firefighter with Orange County since 2012.

Her uniform is her bunker gear, and it's gear that is made to protect her while she's protecting the community.

There is nothing wrong with the gear she wears on a daily basis and during her 24-hour shifts. 

It is tailored to her height and waist, but that's about it. That's why she's taking part in the study. 

It consists of placing small blue stickers on parts of hands and fingers along with certain parts of her body. 

A hand and full body scan will document exact measurements to help create a bunker suit specifically for women's body types. 

Meredith McQuerry is an assistant professor with Florida State University and works in the retail entrepreneurship program.

She is part of the study and said the focus on female firefighters specifically began about three years ago. 

"Female firefighters have more of a voice now, and they're saying: 'We need better-fitting gear. We need boots in the appropriate sizes, and we need gloves in the appropriate sizes,' and that's what we're hoping to eventually deliver," McQuerry said. "We're specifically collecting data on female firefighter hand, body and foot."

Researchers have been collecting data across the country. The goal for Orange County is to document between 100 and 150 firefighters, men included. 

McQuerry said the goal is to have all research complete along with the study by the end of the year and take the information to manufacturers.