There is no doubt that the FDNY are New York’s bravest – they are not however New York’s fairest. Today, in 2015, of the FDNY’s 10,500 firefighters, just 44 are women. The inclusion of any women at all took a court case which facilitated the entry of women into the FDNY when they were ordered by the court to develop a physical test for women recruits which did not consistently result in all women recruits failing.
The woman who mounted the court case, is the woman in the video Captain Brenda Berkman. Her efforts resulted in she and 10 other female recruits, successfully graduating from the Fire Academy on Randalls Island in 1982. Despite their success the men’s firefighters union continued to try and stop women both being recruited and then from being promoted within the fire service. And women firefighters continued to be harassed by their make workmates. This resulted in Berkman and her female co-workers setting up the United Women Firefighters who counter the continued pressure on female firefighters.
Today figures show that the FDNY is way below other other City Institutions, for example the NYPD, in reflecting the diversity of NYC’s popualtion in the gender balance and ethnicity balance of recruits. As well the oontinued stresses women firefigthters face have resulted in 70% of female firefighters retiring on disability pensions and there has as yet been no investigation to discover why the figure is higher than the number of men on disability pensions. The whole long drawn out saga is an object lesson in how hard it is to bring about social change. Insufficient work has been done to look at just why the FDNY has proved so uanble to achieve a great gender balance compared to other institutions which appear to be comparable.