May 15, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – With fewer than 50 women in the ranks, fighting fires in the City of New York remains virtually an all male profession — but action taken today in the City Council could help change all that.
When enacted, Intro. 579-2014, will compel the 150-year-old FDNY to be a lot more transparent about its recruitment efforts in regard to both women and minorities.
“I think that the bill is important for transparency in the fire academy so advocacy groups like the United Women Firefighters can track our candidates and see what they need help in and what programs that we've implemented have helped them,” said Sarinya Srisakul, a 10-year department veteran and leading advocate for women firefighters.
Srisakul is one of only 46 female firefighters presently comprising less than one percent of the FDNY’s total 10,500-member uniformed workforce.
Other major cities, in contrast, are much more diverse — in San Francisco and Minneapolis, for example, women make up 10 to 15 percent of the firefighting force.
The bill that the City Council passed this week calls on the FDNY to begin issuing annual online reports detailing the demographics involved in the department's lengthy application process.
“The FDNY has had a history with not being forthright about some of this information that we've requested,” Srisakul added. “The current administration has been a departure from that, but this is a good step, for all, in the right direction.”
Councilmembers Helen Rosenthal [D-6th District] and Elizabeth Crowley [D-30th District] co-sponsored the measure last year.
In a statement, Councilmember Rosenthal, chair of the Committee on Contracts, argued that the statistics outlining the participation of local women in the FDNY “just don’t add up” when compared to national figures.
“I am eager to learn what is so unique about being a firefighter in NYC that it excludes women,” Councilmember Rosenthal said. “The data we will receive from this bill will shed light on how many women apply to be firefighters and where they drop off along the long application process, which can take several years from start to finish.”
Councilmember Crowley said that her bill will now ensure “fair standards for all who enter the FDNY training academy.”
“New York City has the bravest women in the world, are we to believe less than 50 females, in a city of over 8 million people, want to be firefighters?” Council member Crowley said in a statement.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro is on record saying that the department needs to do a better job of recruiting female firefighters, and that there are “thousands of women” capable of doing the job.
Brenda Berkman became the FDNY’s first female firefighter in 1982, after a long legal battle.