HEAT: The First Women Firefighters of New York City

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a member of my family is a firefighter (female) and has suffered harrassment, bullying. intimidation, obsceneties etc, and after attending a course recently is now confident enough to answer back and know her 'rights'

Researching for my Introduction to Fire Science term paper, I stumbled upon your film website.I was looking for a topic that would be controversial. A supportive co-worker suggested Women in Fire Service. How exhilarting it is to hear from all these strong and courageous women in fire service. I've wanted to pursue firefighting since 2003 but have had many obstacles to overcome. Currently, I am a working EMT w/3 years experience w/a local private provider. On the job, I train our new EMT's, mostly male, who are prospective fire applicants. Working w/some men who are very chauvinistic, and caring for patients who doubt that I can lift or carry them up or down stairs. Thank you for the support thru your lives and materials. My 2 children see the possibilities that women like myself can work in non-traditional male oriented jobs and their classmates have been amazed when I bring our ambulance to school for a demo. I am so proud of all women in fire service and EMS. My respect goes to you for your emotional battles in fire service even with brothers whose lives you're prepared to save.

Lou Blazquez
Munds Park, AZ

As a middle school teacher, I notice that youngsters are exposed to material that too often has males for heroes. This is a film that shows courage and guts in females in a real way. This is what women can do. This ability is ANOTHER reason why they should be respected. Their humanity is ANOTHER reason why the should not be humiliated.

As a Tae Kwon Do instructor, I must give a side lesson that is not publicized. Young and adult males (even those with inferior skills) "take it easy" on females. Women already have the right stuff. What they need is the real stuff--from males who, because of society's influence, throw half-hearted techniques. I must intervene as a result.

Cubby Fitzpatrick, Brenda Berkmann, and company, you are American heroes. You didn't just put out the fires. You put out the misconception. Your suffering, your emotional damage has meaning and inspiration.


Sentimental and nostalgic. Great.

Jennifer Curtis

I was so touched by this film, and want to extend my gratitude to Captain Berkman and the other women featured who displayed such courage in the face of fierce opposition. I am just old enough to identify with their experience, but young enough to know that mine has been made easier by women like them.

I would also like to thank PBS and the film's funders, for helping insure that the burdens these women carried are neither forgotten, nor unappreciated. 4/19/06

I saw the show the other night. It was truly an eye opening for me. I didn't know that such hatred in USA existed. It brought tears of saddness to my eyes. Seeing how hard it's been. It broke my heart to know that the work that so many women such as Brenda Berkmen have done and are still continuing to do is met with such anger and cruelty. At the same time, ironically, it warmed my heart, i feel so blessed, to see such women have existed and continuing to exist. I wish there were more of you all out there. Dear Brenda, I want to thank you and all the other woman who are standing in their truth. In the day and age were our little girls are so consumed with their looks, that they starve themselve or cut themselve. it's important to have such people as yourselves to set better examples. Thank you for being so brave. Thank you for setting an example for all of our little girl. I know your road has been hard. I know your hearts have been broken. But not only you have saved lives with your "Day job" as fire fighters but you are changing the world with your spirit. Please don't give up...Please don't let others who are afraid change you...You are truly wondarful i hope you will always know it! 4/17/06
Sarah Royer
Shipman Illinois

Brenda Berkman is my hero as are all the women all over the United States who serve in the Fire Service. Taking the Heat made me so angry. I am angry at all those who say "we can't" because we can. Those women like all the women in the Fire Service over came so many obstacles both personally and professionally. Taking the Heat not only made me angry but inspired me to be the best woman I can be. I appriciate all the sacrifices that women who have broken barriers have had to make and over come. You Go Girls!! 4/17/06
Mike Teslar
Palm Springs, Calif

I've watched the program more than once and consider myself fortunate that I have known Brenda Berkman F.C. and most of the senior members of UWF-FDNY for almost 19 years.

It was not easy to watch and revisit the issues these women faced back then, yet it is part of the history of the FDNY.

It should be appreciated by those who watch this program , that Brenda and those interviewed were kind enough to share the professional and personal lives with the public. Not an easy thing to do.

Today,2006, in the changing dynamics of the American Fire Service, the concept of "Daughters following their mothers on to the job" is a reality not to be ignored.

It has been through the efforts of these women as well as many other

women firefighters who were "First" on their department to make this happen.

I appreciate the work that has been done to make this documentary. 4/17/06
ronald mozitis
san diego ca.

i as a male that once thought that women couldnt do certain jobs as firefighters would like to give my most heartfelt thank you to the proud women of this most dangerous job and selfless bravery. i want to say thank you for giving both life and limb to protect our citizens of this great country. to brenda. I SALUTE YOU. YOU ARE ONE OF THE MOST BRAVE AND SELFLESS HUMANS I HAVE LEARNED OF IN MY 52 YEARS OF LIFE. ONCE AGAIN MY HAT IS OFF TO YOU AND ALL YOUR FELLOW WOMEN THAT SEE TO IT THAT OUR CITIZENS ARE SAFE AND SECUE .YOU ARE OUR HERO. I KEPT MY CHILDREN UP TILL 1200 AM TO WATCH THIS AS I FELT THAT YOUR'S AND OTHER WOMEN FIRE FIGHTERS STORIES NEEDED TO BE REVEALED TO MY CHILDREN. ONCE AGAIN THANK YOU AND MAY GOD BLESS EACH AND EVERY ONE OF YOU 4/5/06
Lynn R.
Omaha, NE

What an awesome film. I was hanging on every word the whole time. Brenda Berkman is an inspiration. I recently taught a lesson about women of influence and inspiration in American history(March was Women's History Month). The next time I teach that lesson Brenda Berkman will most definitely be included. The obstacles she and her contemporaries overcame filled me with awe. 3 months ago I met a women that was training to be the first female SWAT team member in our city and had to shake her hand and extend my thanks to her. It is women such as these, with enduring courage and tenacity, that pave the way for the little girls who will look up to them and know that they really can be anything they want to be when they grow up. 4/5/06
Lincoln, NE

I too was inspired by this film. It needs to get more attention and exposure. I would never have known this film existed if I hadn't happened across it last night. Women "belong" in any job they desire to do. To even ask that question is insulting. This is 2006! So many women like Berkman have risked everything to demand our equality, to allow us to vote and make our own health decisions. People need to be reminded of the struggles that have taken place to get us where we are today. I urge NETV to air this program earlier in the evening where it will get more exposure. And to the filmmakers and all of the women firefighters, THANK YOU! 4/4/06
Willie Snyder
St. Paul, MN

This was an amazing, AMAZING film!! Too bad it was on so late in the night/early in the morning: IT DESERVES A MUCH WIDER AUDIENCE for all the little girls and their supportive little brothers! I could not be more imspired by both the film - which I have now recommended to friends - and the comments posted here on your electronic message board. The quote from Josefina of Brooklyn (Which is, by coincidence, where my brother lives...) posted here on 3/28/06 re: her "tribe wear(ing) blue and rid(ing) red horses..." sums it all up!! Ya, FIGHT ON!! Fight the fires, fight the bigotry, fight the jealousy, prejudice and fear of the unfamiliar! THANK YOU for this story and these HEROES!! 4/3/06
dawn dougherty
minnepolis, mn

My partner is a female fire captain and has been on the job for twelve years. She has indeed carried a man out of a burning high rise and was commended by the city for it. She will be the first one to tell you, however, that those rescues are very rare and the stuff of movies.

Every firefighter will at some point be faced with a situation that they are physically unable to do, so you could argue that women are *better* (gasp!) suited for firefighting because some reach that physical threshold sooner and are able to see a variety of other options.

I can't for the life of me figure out why some men are so threatened by this. I am deeply ashamed that I live in a country with such deep hostility towards women. 4/3/06
Davenport, Iowa

I think it is a great accomplishment that Brenda and all of the other women firefighters out there were able to be great on the job, as well as to withstand the sexist criticism. I found this episode to be personally inspriational. I am a new graduate nurse working in intensive care, and I have recently taken some heat from co-workers and patients. The problem is that they see my young age before they see that I'm a great nurse. Although nursing is a "traditionally female" career, many people do not realize the emotional and physical strenghth that it takes to do the job. In this way I was able to identify with the women firefighters, although my struggles pale in comparison to theirs. Thank you for telling the story of these women. I will remember it always, and will be inspired by it to do the best job that I know how, regardless of any ignorant negativity that I receive. 4/3/06
J. Horton
Clearwater, Florida

I think the film is great and overdue. I am quite appalled at the poor viewing times of the show. i think had it been any other stry eminating from FDNY it would have been on prime time. Thank you though at least you showed it once or twice. Thank you Independent Lens for stepping out there and making it. Thank you Brenda Berkman and all the women who have fought the long fight for the rest of us to continue. I too began in the early years of women in the fire department and had to endure things no one should have to even as a human being, let alone just to be a firefighter. The incredible backlash of other women is ludicris. Women have fought for everything they have for so long and continue to do so. It is not a matter of being a feminist but being all that you can be and not allowing yourself to be controlled by one group or another. That type of behavior is dictatorship, what we fight wars against... I truly believe that even in the 21st century women are still treated as second class citizens in some ways. There was a time in history when every single job out there was considered a "mans" job.

I say way to go to those men who have evolved and to all the women who have paved the way. 4/3/06
Casselberry FL

I watched this film last night and I applaude all the women featured. It takes great courage to have been in their shoes.

Thank you for a wonderful film! 4/3/06

I want to thank Roy Bann once again for an honest portrayal of what it is like to be a woman in the fire service. I saw his documentary at a screening in Los Angeles in early March and again tonight on TV. I was the only woman on my department for more than 12 years and I know first hand the isolation and loneliness caused in this environment. The career of a Firefighter is one of the most rewarding careers in the world and that is what gets each and every woman through the difficult times and the fire house culture. The average person has no concept at all of what goes on behind the walls of a fire station. 4/3/06
Julie Sherwood
Madison, WI

I just watched Taking the Heat.

Brenda is an inspiration and a confirmation that the courage and persistance of a dedicated individual really does have a lasting effect on the world. 4/3/06
Laila Selk
La Honda, CA

I saw the first screening in San Francisco, then again on PBS recently. I laughed and cried both times.

My experience as a firefighter from 1984-1996, beginning at the age of 26, taught me so much about the relatively few men who guard the profession as their own so vehemently. I found myself in the position of dealing with some form of harassment/unequal treatment on a daily basis that after a couple of years I began standing up for what I believed women and men deserved: separate, but equal, locker and bathroom facilities.

As much as they hated me for trying to change "their" world, not one ever complained that I couldn't "do" the job, because they knew I could. This is what kept me going in the face of adversity. I believe that women on the job today know they can "do" the job and that's why they're able to stay.

I'm truly at a loss as to how some people can make a blanket statment about women not being able to do the job when thousands have been successfully at it over the last 20+ years, and many have risen through the ranks to become fire chiefs of big, metropolitan departments like San Francisco.

It devastated me to have to retire 10 years ago due to a severe, job related, back injury, but I'm happy to know that my struggles for gender equality in the firehouse were not in vain.

Kudos to Brenda and all other women firefighters worldwide. Hang in there and keep believing in yourself. 4/3/06
Sharon Kelly Sayers
Rochester, New York

The similarity between what the early women firefighters faced and the many other "first women" stories is striking. I recall the early sexual harassment cases (one of which was a NYC woman police officer), and no one can doubt the truth of all these women in such different areas. I was one of the first women lawyers in our community and what I faced daily sounds unbelievable even to me, although I lived through it. I identified strongly with Brenda and the unadulterated hatred she experienced from her colleagues. I also identified with the deep gratitude she felt for those few men who stood up for her and lent moral support. I had a few of them, and I too shall never forget them. This documentary far exceeds the several movies trying to capture what is was like. Great work!!! 3/31/06
medford, oregon

Watching this story in the middle of a wakeful night, I was struck by the courage Brenda has showed throughout her life. In spite of heart breaking consequences, she kept going, kept working for justice.

I want to thank her for her sacrifices and hope that she will find peace and happiness, that the blessings she deserves will come to her. 3/31/06
Queens NY

I don't expect you to post this letter, because it is the truth, and a lot of journalism is based on never letting the "Truth stand in the way of a good story". Your show was a great "tear-jerker", but it was pure "Reality-Show"/Hollywood! I've been a NYC fireman for 18 years. There was NEVER, and still is not ANY discrimination against women or "minorities" in the hiring practices of the FDNY. The reason why women could not get hired back then was because NONE of them could pass the physical...PERIOD! So the City was forced to make that part of the test easier and easier, until women could pass with a good enough mark to get hired. Judge Sifton was the man responsible for instituting the quota system back when your "star", Miss Berkeman, was hired. This system forced the City to hire females who didn't necessarily qualify, but had to be hired regardless. The men of the NYC fire dept. have nothing against women being on the job, but what we really despise is "people" being hired, that don't deserve to be.

And that was the case, back when your "Star" got hired! If you don't post this, I will take it as the epitome of "Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story". Thanks 3/31/06
K. Kmetz

Kudos on this powerful story of a remarkably courageous human being and NYC firefighter: Brenda Berkman. Clearly there is still a long way to go in terms of breaking down the barriers of chauvinism and bigotry which women face in traditionally male occupations. Thanks to tenacious pioneers like Berkman, however, we are on the trail. 3/31/06
Frank Miale
Carmel, NY

I was one of the people interviewed. The two hours of taping were reduced to some 20 seconds on air. I have no problem with that, it is the nature of editing. But, I do have a problem with presenting my words out of context and portraying my general attitude as being negative. It only casts great suspicion on how much truth the rest of the program contained. Even the very words in the website attributed to me were not used in the broadcast. How interesting!

FIlmmaker Bann Roy's response:

Hello Chief Miale,

While I am truly sorry you feel that your comments in the film were taken out of context, I must respectfully disagree with you on that point. Every soundbyte in the film from our interview with you was taken directly from answers you gave to specific topics that were being discussed. We were extremely careful not to mix answers to different questions, unless the interviewee meandered on to other topics by himself/herself. In other words, no one, including you, was placed out of context.

The nature of television filmmaking is such that one has a very limited amount of time to present a thought or idea. I could not, for example, include volunteer firefighting experiences of people, but had to stick to those experiences and answers specific to the New York City Fire Department during a very specific time period. And we were very careful to stick to the MAIN substance of arguments closely.

Unfortunately, I do not understand your comment about the website issue that you raised and therefore cannot address that concern.

Personally, I thought you were wonderful - articulate, precise and clear. In my eyes at least, you are certainly NOT an antagonist who wanted the women to fail. And I am sure none of the viewers see you in that light either. Rather, you gave very eloquent, opposing arguments that are necessary for any film that tries to delve into a sensitive issue with depth and balance.

Bann Roy, director
Tom Jones

I work with some of these women. Of all 33, maybe 5 of them are worth anything more than an intellectual idea. I dont want people who can decipher the constitution of the Congo. I want people that can phyciscally do the job. If anyone on 'the' job thinks that physical is anything like the real thing, they should get a reality check! Try doing the physical with a blacked out mask and a 500 degree oven over you head. Then we'll see who the real fireMEN are. 3/30/06
Charlie Oliver
Hampton, NH

Firefighters are a rare breed of performance athlete, very intelligent minds, determined, caring, big hearted, dedicated, heroic people. Fortunately God has created many men and women with these qualities. Now that Brenda and others have sacrificed and tolerated the brunt of the hardships and evil attacks upon their spirits, now other women can feel more welcomed into this most noble profession. 3/30/06

I saw your documentary on pbs independent lense -- IT'S EXCELLENT!!! EXCELENT documentary we should have more shows on these kinds of pioneers!!! It's amazing that there is still so much work to be done all over the world for our humanity to evolve!
I was also abused, discriminated against and fired like Brenda Berkman for internally whisle blowing in a job and I feel - know her pain & my whistle blowing efforts did change things for the better of our public safety.
Although I would not go public with my situation, I am happy that Brenda and others like her have the courage to make the public effort and meaningful contributions to our laws which is helping me in my lawsuit for wrongful termination and discrimination. 3/30/06
Stacey Lowe
Sandy, UT

You pose the question, do women "belong in dangerous or traditionally male jobs?" Women belong where their hearts are. My sister fell in love with fire fighting and became the first female to pass the physical abilities test in our small community. She passed away last month, and was honored by fire departments throughout the entire state. She was so proud of what she'd accomplished. She never thought of it as a job for a man or a woman, just something that she loved doing. She would have loved seeing this documentary and would be grateful, as am I, to those women who endured so much to provide an avenue for women to pursue their dreams. 3/30/06
Maureen Travis
Hartford, Connecticut

I have not been more inspired by any other contemporary woman. What a role model. I'm going to purchase the film to show in my classes as an example of heroism. I would love to get in contact to her to express my appreciation. 3/29/06
Sekai J Shakoor
Charleston, S.C.

I feel that some of thme just had a pessimitic attuide & didn't wan to tlet the women into the "old boys club" I feel that if a woma is qualified for the job & she can do it, let her do it!!! She'll do it better than the men!! I belive what was at sstake was the futue of all the little girls who dremaed of being firefighters. They deserve the chane to be able to sho what they can do. I'm proud to be woman & even prouder that this a counry where you can be what you can be what you want, even if there are some obstacles. 3/29/06
Alishia Ouellette
Danvers FD, Danvers Mass.

I have heard and read a little about Brenda Berkman. Having started out as a male Firefighter I have been around and worked with female firefighters. I thought I understood the problems involved. Having transitioned on the job as a male to female trans-woman I have come to a whole new understanding. This film and Brenda is and will continue to be, an insperation me. 3/29/06
Mary Marquardt
Watertown, SD

As one of Brenda's former teachers in Minnesota, I remember her as always standing up for herself and her own ideas. Once I remember quoting to her, "To thine ownself be true." How proud I am to have seen how dedicated she has been in holding on to her high standards. 3/29/06
Jesse L. Hash
Phoenix, AZ

While my neighbors & colleagues are still waving their 9-11 flags (literally & metaphorically), most are ignorant of the egregious sexism entrenched in & tenaciously defended by the institutions they venerate. The history of FDNY stinks of gross inhumanities toward racial and gender minorities. No amount of brief post-terrorism response will compensate for a vile system which has brutally tortured the spirits and lives of dedicated minorities within its ranks. I will never respect the situationally-based "heroes" at FDNY as I do individuals like Brenda Berkman, whose LONG TERM, SELF-SACRIFICING SOCIAL COMMITMENT changes lives. 3/29/06
Janet Atkins
San Antonio, TX

Thank you for providing a valuable learning opportunity. I admire the sustained courage of Captain Brenda Berkman and the other women firefighters.

I think that some members of the NYFD believed that women entering their space would disorder their world and that they would be unable to carry on as usual due to changes. In other words, the stability of their organization was threatened.

I had no knowledge of the firefighting profession as it relates to women, and I was shocked to learn of such cruelty toward them.

I believe that women belong where ever they desire to be, that they should have equal opportunity to pursue whatever they wish. 3/29/06
Ruth McConnell
Littleton, CO

I just finished watching the program "TAKING THE HEAT: The First Women Firefighters of New York City," and I was absolutely amazed. I was amazed by the determination and courage of those women who struggled so hard to be firefighters, just as I was amazed by the stalwart resistance to women in this field. As a woman who graduated from a military academy 10 years after women were allowed to enter, I have a taste (albeit a small one in comparison) of what it is like to be told you can't measure up because you are a woman and then to not be accepted even when you do prove your ability. I honor these women who defied convention and demanded the right to be given the chance to show they were able to do the job.

The question, do women "belong" in dangerous or "traditionally male jobs," should not be asked. Women have the right to apply and prove their capability in any job just as a man. The justifications "that's the way we've always done things" or "that's what's acceptable in our (male dominated) society" should never be used to defend or validate discriminatory policy. If a woman (or any person for that matter) proves he or she can do the job, the job should be theirs. Someday, hopefully, all Americans will accept each other and recognize each other's worth without the need for a court order. 3/29/06
Julie Campbell
London, Ontario, Canada

What a truly inspirational story! I hope those women know that the struggles they endured in their fight for equality have not gone unnoticed.

Do women belong in "traditionally" male jobs? Absolutely. Professional limitations facing women are more about outdated social expectations and prejudice than a lack of qualifications.

So to all women who have bravely gone where they were told they could not go: thank you. 3/29/06
Georgia Guida
Brooklyn, NY

I have always loved firefighters. I never knew before seeing this amazing broadcast just what women firefighters had to go through to get hired and to keep their jobs. I'm retired now, but in my next life I plan to be a firefighter. What an inspiration! I am so proud of these trailblazers! 3/29/06
Chaz Mena
Astoria, NY

This was great television. Please know that there are men that are very happy to see women in the uniformed services.

My own background was full of machoistic jingoism (like the retired firefighter who said about women firefighter were like "him working at fixing nails.") and part of my own maturity was liberating myself from ridiculous notions about women.

God bless all the women firefighter in NYC and the rest of the country! 3/28/06

I just wanted to say what an insperational film this was to see. I am a volunteer firefighter and EMT in my home town. I am one of about four women in my company and one of two who have taken up firefighting. The men at my station are all very supportive but in the begining it was hard to gain their respect. I just like any other man had to prove myself loyal to this way of life. I love what i do and encourage anyone to get involved. I am also proud to say that i am currently attending GMU, GO PATRIOTS, to further my career in pre hospital care to become a flight nurse. I hope that more women come into this feild...comon ladies we need to show these men just how much heat we can take! 3/28/06
Josefina Sanfeliu
Brooklyn, NY

Capt. Brenda Berkman is the commander of Engine 239 (4th Avenue Express is the first-due engine for my 110yo wood-frame house). I got to know her and many other firefighters and officers after 9/11 but especially when FDNY closed six engine companies in NYC in 2003.

Some of the Bravest firefighters carry 100lbs. of gear, some work with heavy hoses charged with water, sometimes in F5* sleet or in F95* heat or in subway tunnels, sometimes rescuing an unconcious heavy stranger, sometimes escorting a gurney with somber dignity and compassion.

Some are National Guard or Reserves and left then came back.

I want 343+3 listed separetely at WTC Ground Zero Memorial and taken out of debris.

I want my taxes to get them smart gear, good radios, firehouse bathrooms, and elected or appointed officials who see how hard they work to keep safe each other and us and our homes and pets.

24/7/365 worldwide - my life is in the hands of male or female paid or volunteer firefighters who will never ask my age, gender, status, ethics, income. They will come for me.

It is a job but looks like love to me.

My tribe wear blue and rides red horses. 3/21/06
FF Browning
Clayton County GA

How wondeful is this! I am a proud member of my fire department. We currently have 14 women and all the men treat us with total respect. I wish though the stories i " still hear" today weren't happening.

The other day i was driving the Quint and a man in a truck pulled up beside us and said " I never knew they'd let a woman drive that thing!?"...MY Lt. leaned over and said " Yeah, woman also drive dump trucks, 18 wheelers, UPS trucks & Garbage trucks got anything else to say to my Firefighter?

Keep your head up Ladies, there not all bad. 3/21/06
Judy Hamilton
Fayetteville, NY

I am so excited to see this film!!! I am gathering local women firefighters to watch it together.

I am doing research on women firefighters and would love to talk to the woman from the Rochester Fire Department. Could you please email me? 3/13/06
Jesse J. Gardner
Philadelphia, PA

I look forward to this film. I painted Lt. Brenda Berkman's portrait in 1993 as part of my "Unsung Heroes" series, on the day the World Trade Center was attacked the first time. Her company, which was located in Brooklyn just across the bridge, was first due in. I asked her if she wanted to cut the session short to go to the scene, but she declined. Always the consumate professional, she knew that the correct procedure was that the firefighters on duty were the only ones who should be present on the fire scene.

I only wish cooler heads like hers had prevailed on September 11, when scores of off-duty firefighters jumped on trucks to be at the scene of a potentially enromous fire, and subsequently lost their lives. 2/27/06
Rochester, NY

You have no idea what a relief this film will be to all women who have been or who wish to serve their community in the fire department. The Rochester Fire Department is so bad they have to send women to a different fire academy outside of Rochester because the men in the academy will sabotage them right from the start.
I left the department 2 years ago because the abuse got to much for me. And when it does get to be too much, they just say you are "crazy", they never want to admit how violent they are.


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