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TAKING THE HEAT: The First Women Firefighters of New York City

Women Firefighters Timeline


Patricia “Cubby” Fitzpatrick

Patricia Fitzpatrick, 47 years old, poses in an industrial setting near a brick wall and a concrete pillar; white smoke lingers in the background; she is muscular and wears a purple athletic bra, fire department-issue blue pants and a utility belt; she holds a fire axe in one hand and another tool in the other and smiles.

What are the most and least appealing things about being a woman firefighter?

The equipment not fitting was least appealing. Being prejudged and feeling isolated are the most basic things that are unappealing. Being a woman who is a firefighter—nothing appeals to me more than that.

Age: 47
Years on the job: 16
Rank: Retired: Line of duty injury 1998
Home station: Assigned to Engine 44; Retired from Ladder 16

Why did you choose to become a firefighter?

I was a transit cop when the court ruled in favor of (Brenda Berkman’s) class action suit. I did not receive any paperwork because I had moved since taking the test and did not update my address with the personnel department. My investigating officer at Transit gave me the number to the lawyers handling the case and told me to call. I just met the deadline to become part of the suit and take the new test. I knew I didn't like what I was already doing; I had nothing to lose.

What were the most difficult aspects of the tests to become a firefighter?

At that time, showing up was difficult. It was different back then and the fire department did not want women on the job. The men on the job fought it, men taking the test fought it and we were still are a minority. It was painful for all involved. The lawsuit decision stated that women had to get training before taking the new physical so the department set up training sessions at the academy where candidates could go through the exam. I did not go because my shift in the transit police interfered. When I showed up to take the test, I was not familiar with anything and clearly the other women had a distinct advantage. Showing up and not knowing anyone and not having been part of the training was difficult.

How did you stay in shape—mentally and physically—for your job?

I lifted weights and jogged. I would jog into work sometimes when I lived in the Bronx and worked in Manhattan—12 miles or so—and I would wear a backpack with weights. I ran marathons, triathlons and boxed on the fire department team. I took pride in being a firefighter and being in shape was my responsibility.

What do your family members/friends think of what you did as a firefighter?

My friends think I am crazy but are proud of me, and so is my family.

Would you encourage young girls to become firefighters? What advice could you offer?

I would definitely encourage young girls to be firefighters. My advice is always the same: keep yourself fit, exercise and eat right, study and know the job and always wear your protective equipment.

Read Kinga Mielnik’s Q&A >>

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