169 Women Among First Group of FDNY Hopefuls

Chief Leader - July 25, 2018

by BOB HENNELLY

Of the 2,269 Firefighter candidates called from the top of the new hiring list to take the prep course for the physical-aptitude test, 169 were women, according to Firefighter Sarinya Srisakul, president of the United Women Firefighters, a non-profit support group for female firefighters.

According to the FDNY, the first cohort of test-takers from the latest exam who were called up “are first in line to be potentially hired” after they undergo their candidate investigation, physical exam and other requirements.

Tough Competition

Competition was intense for the test, which is administered every four years. More than 4,000 of the 46,000 test-takers scored higher than 100 on the DCAS-administered exam.

Ms. Srisakul said that historically the FDNY loses a lot of viable female candidates to attrition, with hopefuls just falling off somewhere in the process.

“Like I have stated before, the biggest hurdle is just getting the women to show up,” she said in an email exchange.

A really high exam score, she said, is not, in and of itself, a guarantee of success. “Just because they are high on the list doesn’t mean they will get past the physical test, the medical test, the background investigation, etc.,” she wrote. “In the past the FDNY has called 3-4 candidates to get one to the point of going to the Fire Academy, so unfortunately it doesn’t really mean much to us, unless they get to pass everything.”

Open House Scheduled

On Sunday Aug. 5 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the UWF will hold an open house at the New York Sports Club, 217 Broadway, just south of City Hall.

“We will have a presentation that will help break down the list, the steps to getting hired as a firefighter, FAQs and an introduction to our training program, including a short workout and familiarization of our training equipment,” according to the UWF announcement. “This is a must for those who are towards the top of the list and those who are new to our program.”

Ms. Srisakul said that for the women in the first round of call-ups, time is of the essence.

”For the first group of women, everything happens relatively quickly, so within a few months they are going to take their physical test, then their medicals after,” she said. “For this first group, if they haven’t been training already, then it will be really hard for them to pass their physical test.”

Training Matters

She continued, “That’s why we have a year-round training program, and many women candidates that we’ve been in touch with have been training with us for years, so they don’t have to worry as much. It’s the women who scored high who haven’t been training at all that we have to worry about.”

According to the UWF president, the Fire Academy class that started in June has 19 women in it, “which is the most ever in recent history.”

Last October, the FDNY Academy graduated four female firefighters, bringing the total number of women in the fire service to 68.

All four of the women Probationary Firefighters in that class were mothers. “That is the first time that has ever happened,” said Ms. Sri­sa­kul. “Everyone knows Fire Academy is really hard. But to do it as a woman, to do it as a mother—you have to go home and take care of your family after a long, arduous day at the Fire Academy. It is nothing short of incredible.”

The FDNY’s first 41 women were sworn in in 1982. Their hiring was a consequence of a successful lawsuit that ended the exclusion of women when a Federal Judge determined the physical exam for the job discriminated against them.

"Prior to 1977, women were not even allowed to file to take the test for Firefighter,” recalled retired FDNY Capt. Brenda Berkman at a commemoration marking the milestone last year. “That meant that the quota for women in the New York City Fire Department prior to 1977 was zero. It did not matter if you had won an Olympic Gold Medal or if you had won the title of strongest woman in the world, you could not apply to become a New York City Firefighter.”

Subverting the Law

Ms. Berkman contended that the FDNY’s response to the passage of Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed race or gender-based discrimination by employers, including local governments, was to develop a physical test that women could not pass. “More than 400 women passed the written portion of the Firefighter exam. Of the 90 women that dared to show up for the physical portion of the Firefighter exam, not a single one passed it,” she said. “And I was one of those 90 women and I believed the test was not job-related.”

Despite recent progress, the FDNY's ranks include under 1 percent women, well behind other major American cities. In 2016, CNN reported that according to the National Fire Protection Association, 7 percent of the nation's 1.1 million firefighters were women.