VANCOUVER (CP) -- Women firefighters in Canada sometimes find themselves battling more than blazes in a male-dominated job.
They frequently have to fight for respect and against sexual harassment in the rough world of the firehouse where ribald humour may be less than welcome, if not downright derogatory, say some women in the fire service.
Women find themselves working in firehalls designed solely for men, dealing with grooming regulations made for men, being issued protective gear made for men and without policies regarding pregnancy and reproductive safety.
The issue recently came under the spotlight when a Burnaby, B.C. firefighter, Captain Boni Prokopetz, went public with her B.C. Human Rights Tribunal complaint against her employer.
Prokopetz claims she was subject to continual harassment over 11 years, including a sexual assault.
She had been on paid stress leave while her complaints were being investigated, but although the investigations are not complete, on Wednesday, the city ordered her back to work with the colleagues she has accused.
She's not sure if she can do that.
``I can't go back to work. What am I to face there especially now that I've come public?'' she asked. ``What they've done to poison my work environment is beyond belief.''
Among the complaints Prokopetz has claimed in her human rights filing are that:
-One superior sexually assaulted her in January;
-Another superior repeatedly called her a ``dumb bitch'';
-Firefighters frequently watched porn in the firehall;
-Porn was left on her bunk;
- She was told she should give her emergency gear to a stripper in the firehall.
The claims are allegations only and have not been proven in a court of law or at the tribunal.
Prokopetz has also filed a criminal complaint with Burnaby RCMP against the superior she accuses of sexually assaulting her by groping her buttocks and kissing her.
RCMP Cpl. Dave Conrad said he could only confirm ``that there is an investigation involving members of the Burnaby Fire Department and that it's under review by Crown counsel.''
Prokopetz further alleges in the human rights filing provided to The Canadian Press by her lawyer that in her position as a fire investigator, male officers would not call her out to investigate fire scenes where people died.
Her complaint alleges that is contrary to the Fire Services Act.
Prokopetz said she has received dozens of calls from women firefighters across the country urging her to keep up her fight against the male-dominated firehouse culture.
``It's a culture that's just not willing to accept us,'' she said.
Prokopetz said the union, the Burnaby Firefighters Association, is complicit in maintaining the boys' club atmosphere in the fire hall.
The association is Local 323 of the International Federation of Firefighters.
In a prepared statement, local president Michael Hurley said he would not engage in a media debate on the Prokopetz case.
``Such debate may negatively impact the mediation process or any eventual hearing of the complaint,'' he said.
A call to the Burnaby mayor's office was not returned.
Kenneth Kelly, president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs agreed that chiefs set the tone for departments, but said a complaint such as Prokopetz's was beyond his purview.
``From our perspective, I'd have to probably say it's a non-issue because our association represents chief officers from across the country. If you're a chief officer, that's it. We don't discriminate. We just consider you an equal automatic.''
Kelly said he's met many satisfied female officers but said he is aware of individual, localized complaints.
Prokopetz said her problems go beyond the alleged harassment.
She said she had equipment issues from the start when she was issued size large men's gloves.
``They just weren't functional,'' she said, recounting a story of collecting an oil canister at a car accident. ``I ended up slashing my hand.''