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NYC female firefighters trying to boost numbers

Female Firefighters
NEW YORK (AP) - As a New York City firefighter, Sarinya Srisakul didn't work with another woman for five years, and when she did, she took pictures because it was so rare.

"We were so excited to see each other," she said. "For me, that just doesn't happen."

There are only 37 women out of 10,500 uniformed firefighters in New York City, about a third of 1 percent, among the lowest percentage of any department in the nation. But that number is expected to grow after a record number of women took the latest exam following heavy recruitment spurred by a court order two years ago. Six women entered the fire academy just this week.

"Out of a city of 8 million people, there cannot be only 37 women who are qualified enough and interested in being firefighters - that's just ridiculous," said Srisakul, president of the women's firefighters association, which has made boosting numbers a priority. She is working to help women pass the rigorous physical exam and meet fire academy expectations to graduate into the job.

Nationwide, the firefighting profession remains overwhelmingly male, with women making up only 3.4 percent of the total workforce, according to federal labor statistics. Arguments for why there are so few women on the job are common: They don't want to work in a dangerous, dirty industry, and they just aren't strong enough to deal with the physical demands, which include wearing up to 125 pounds of gear or carrying unconscious victims down a darkened stairwell.

"We've tried to recruit women. The reality is for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to be an attractive job," said Steve MacDonald, spokesman for Boston's fire department, which has 18 women out of a force of 1,470.

None of those arguments really holds water, according to Marc Bendick, an economic consultant who did a study on female firefighters nationwide. He found that men and women who take the physical fitness test known as Candidate Physical Ability Test, developed by fire chiefs around the country, pass at about the same rate as long as the test is administered fairly.

"It's not every woman in the U.S. who could pass that test," Bendick said. "But the kind of women who apply for fire jobs, very athletically inclined, they pass. And not every man can pass it either."

Bendick said other big-city fire departments have more balanced numbers, such as 16 percent in Minneapolis and nearly 5 percent in Denver. And he noted that previously male-dominated jobs, such as military combat and policing, have already made better strides. New York City's police department, for example, has more than 6,000 female officers out of about 35,000 - or about 18 percent.

Bendick's study, which researched the experiences of about 600 female and 600 male firefighters, cited as reasons for the lack of women in firefighting an unreasonably high physical standard unrelated to the job duties, a lack of recruitment and hostile behavior by male colleagues.

Srisakul, who has been a firefighter for nine years, said only 78 percent of the firehouses in New York are outfitted with facilities for women. Other female FDNY firefighters say they have been harassed, and sexist posters were regularly displayed. At least one recently filed a gender discrimination lawsuit that was settled out of court.

In Chicago, there are about 5,000 firefighters and around 120 are women - and a federal judge just awarded $2 million after ruling the department discriminated against women with a physical fitness test that was measuring brawn over the ability to do the job.

In New York, which has the nation's largest fire department, the FDNY is under court order to hire more diverse classes, but that legal battle has focused mostly on minority men. Members of a black firefighters union sued; only about 9 percent of the firefighters are black or Hispanic, though more than half its residents identify with a racial minority group. A federal judge ordered a new written test and better recruitment efforts by the department to boost numbers of minorities. Of the latest class of 319 probationary firefighters that entered the academy this week, 46 percent are minorities.

To recruit more women, the FDNY launched an aggressive campaign, including attending events organized by Nontraditional Employment for Women, the U.S. military and female athletic clubs and organizations. Candidates are offered additional support through the mentoring program that pairs current female firefighters with female candidates.

"Our extraordinary and unprecedented outreach has resulted in the largest group of potential female candidates ever - and we'll soon have more women as firefighters than ever before in the FDNY," Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said.

New York's written test is given every four years. Depending on scores, test-takers are asked back for a physical fitness exam and finally for slots in the academy - usually about 300. The 42,161 would-be firefighters who took the most recent fire exam were the most diverse group ever- nearly 46 percent were minorities. And nearly 2,000 women took the written test - the most ever.

New recruit Choeurlyne Doirin, a mother of two, trains about six days a week to prepare for the rigors of the academy and says she doesn't feel intimidated. She had already worked in emergency services and decided she wanted to be a full-fledged firefighter because she wanted to give back to her community.

"I've always been the oddball everywhere I go. I'm prepared for whatever that may come," she said. "I don't expect for it to be easy but whatever comes, I'll deal with it."

She is among at least a dozen women who attend training sessions twice a week held by the United Women Firefighters.

During a recent session, former Marine Thompson Plyler put a group of about seven women through a grueling course of leg and grip strengthening.

"I want to know you can carry my loved ones to safety," he shouted as the women did hundreds of squats and lifts and ran stairs wearing 50-pound weight vests. One woman fled to puke in the bathroom as Srisakul hollered.

"We want to make you stronger," she said, as the temperature climbed in the workout room.

"You want to know how many flights of stairs I walked up during Sandy?" Srisakul said.

Join the discussion

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paulc185 January 30 2014 at 7:19 AM

Then why aren't Females required to register for the draft?

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2 replies
kirby555 paulc185 January 30 2014 at 9:21 AM

why don't they play 5 sets in tennis, why don't they tee off at the same spot as men.

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jijjhnsn paulc185 January 30 2014 at 9:29 AM

That was then this is now. Draft are not required anymore until politicians agree to it so their own can be drafted.

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2 replies
THE GREAT ONE jijjhnsn January 30 2014 at 9:58 AM

You still MUST reguster for the draft if you are MALE

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Dean Sutton jijjhnsn January 30 2014 at 11:03 AM

How about knowing what you are talking about before showing your ignorance!!!

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mercinyc January 30 2014 at 10:30 AM

How stupid. You want equality when it comes to jobs like being a teacher, an accountant, working an office job; fine. But when it comes down to strength, speed and overall physically being more capable; a few seconds of her being slower than a male FF, can cost lives.

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Calvin Clary January 30 2014 at 9:57 AM

We ought to all be sick and tired of these demanding women in insisting they have a "right" to work in those professions that protect us, just because they are government funded. The fire fighters are a very demanding lot because of the physical demands and extreme amounts of strength that it takes to "save" a human. This also goes for our military as well. These are not proving grounds for social experiments, they are the very fabric that protects and serves the public and our country and should NEVER like our current president does, be used for these left wing, ideological righteous, so called discriminatory saviors.

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1 reply
jsanto7134 Calvin Clary January 30 2014 at 11:05 AM

I sure am glad that my parents taught me not to discriminate and hate.

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rsticks18 January 30 2014 at 9:55 AM

fine-just be smart enough and even more importantly--------------just be fast enough and strong enough.

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onebadcad January 30 2014 at 9:53 AM

Male, Female or any race you want, I do not care. With all your gear on and flames all around can you put a 200 pound person on your shoulder and haul a$$ down 10 or 20 flights of stairs.

If so you're a fire fighter.

If not go home, you are of no help and will get you and others hurt.

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patiodaddy January 30 2014 at 9:29 AM

Women cannot do the same physical type jobs as men. Never have and never will, it's the way we were made. Women are not equal to Men when it comes to strength, you all need to lay that Womens Lib BS down and quit crying over it and trying to weaken our Military with such nonsense.

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1 reply
jsanto7134 patiodaddy January 30 2014 at 11:06 AM

Some women can. Some men can't.

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1 reply
bombaro11515 jsanto7134 January 30 2014 at 11:26 AM

You need balls to be a fireman

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Dean Sutton January 30 2014 at 10:58 AM

Beginning to sound like a jellousy fit fueled by a homone-genetic inbalance. If they were actually able to pass all the tests, then then would have had equal opputinity to be hired on! So, iff you can throw a 200 lb. dummy over your shoulder and make it up three flights of stairs and back down, I will stay out your way.

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Tom January 30 2014 at 9:20 AM

Recent story was about a woman who failed the qualification test five times but was certified anyway, tells you what you will get with some kind of government quota system. Someone please justify this for me. I will honestly listen to any reasonable explanation.

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2 replies
rsticks18 Tom January 30 2014 at 9:56 AM

there is NO reasonable explanation. the explanation is welcome to pc america which is going to get people killed

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Calvin Clary Tom January 30 2014 at 9:59 AM

and, the first time someone's life is lost because "she" couldn't physically pull them out of a fire or danger, then she should be sued on a personal level, and not the taxpayers who pay her. Sick of this crap. These women for the most part are just unhappy being who they are and demand that the rest of us acknowledge it with our tax money and our very safety.

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crossbow36 January 30 2014 at 8:47 AM

This article was not written by someone who has watched firefighters battle a house fire or industrial fire from when they arrive at the fire location till when they drive away.

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John January 30 2014 at 7:55 AM

The problem is letting the courts decide what are the requirements to be a firefighter. Just because there are not enough members of one group of people in a particular occupation does not mean you change the rules so everyone can play the game. If someone wants to be a lawyer they have to pass the bar exam, do they change the test if not enough minorities pass. The same goes for other professions you have to meet a minimum standard. You don't see women playing professional football or baseball because they do not meet the minimum standard. The courts have not stepped in to put one woman on every team. If you want to be something meet the standards that are required to be in that profession.
Maybe if you met the standards that everyone else met, instead of having the courts change the rules, there would be less harassment. Remember if effort and desire was all that was needed to be a firefighter, than a lot of the men your working with would be a shortstop for the New York Yankess.

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