First, the good news: there are now a record number of women in the New York City Fire Department. The bad news? That there are still only 49 women in the whole of the FDNY — which is a record in their 150-year history, but is also pretty terrible for a department with over 10,000 firefighters. Still, progress is progress, even when the starting point is abysmal.
Four women are set to finish their probationary period and graduate from the FDNY Fire Academy today, which in and of itself is a pretty remarkable thing. Though typically at least one female candidate in any given training session will drop out of the program, in this case, all the candidates graduated. “We started with four, we ended with four,” Sarinya Srisakul, president of the United Women Firefighters told Jezebel. “They did really well, all as a group. There was no divisiveness and they all supported each other. This is the fire academy I’ve wanted to see from the very beginning.”
The new recruits all have interesting stories of their own, as well, and include a former Marine, a single mother of two girls, an electrician, and one woman who went through training alongside her two brothers who are already in the department. All reportedly did extremely well on physical exams, even though two are only about 5'2" and 110 pounds — which flies in the face of the conventional argument that women aren't up to the job of being firefighters because they're physically smaller.
The FDNY has historically been a very male-dominated workplace, even after a lawsuit forced the department to begin accepting women in 1982. Over three decades later, however, less than half of one percent of the firefighters are female — and around 90 percent of them are white. (Though the department has made some progressive moves in other ways, such as supporting a transgender firefighter after she came out.)
Still, it's clear that things are slowly changing among New York's Bravest. A year ago, there were only 41 women in the department, meaning numbers have gone up almost 20 percent since then. So even though 49 firefighters might not seem like much in a department of over 10,000, it is a big difference.
“When I started, I never ran into women at the firehouse like I do now,” Srisakul told The Village Voice. “In over thirty years, we’ve never been able to reach these numbers before, and I’m really proud of the women in this class.”
And hopefully, that progress only continues, as having more women in the department in turn inspires more women to join — which is also the hope of newly graduated firefighter Sheliz Salcedo. "Getting to this point taught me that anything is possible as long as you put heart, mind, body, and soul into it," Salcedo told The Village Voice. "I hope we can help raise awareness and inspire more women to come up and join."