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

Women Firefighters Timeline

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Anna Schermerhorn-Collins

Close-up of Anna Schermerhorn-Collins, 40 years old, with close-cropped dirty blonde hair; she wears a dark jacket over a blue uniform and smiles warmly.

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

The most appealing is when a young girl or woman sees me and her eyes light up as she realizes that this is something that she too can do! There is nothing that isn't appealing about being a woman firefighter.

Name: Anna Schermerhorn-Collins
Age: 40
Years on the job: 9 1/2 years
Rank: Lieutenant
Home station: Covering in the North Bronx (no particular station)

Why did you choose to become a firefighter?

I was in graduate school, but at a crossroads and not sure if I wanted to continue. During my free time I started photographing interesting buildings in New York City and discovered NYC firehouses. I then started painting watercolors of particular houses. In the process, I was encouraged by firefighters to take the test, as I seemed interested in the FDNY. So, on an "okay, I will" dare, started training for the test and fell in love with the pursuit. Here I am now.

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

That depends on whom you speak with. For some it is the written exam, for others the physical exam. For others it is meeting the medical requirements (vision, pulmonary, etc.). The written and physical must both be taken seriously as it is the combined score that is considered when making appointments. A drop of two or three points on the written exam can drop you [down] 100 to 1,000 names easily. And a perfect score on the physical exam is necessary if one hopes to get called for the job within the first few years of hiring (anything less severely lessens one's chance of getting called at all). The best way to prepare for any of these tests is task-specific training—taking mock written and physical exams—over and over again, so that the techniques are imprinted in your mind and in your muscles.

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

I stay interested in what goes on in the firehouse and on the fireground. I take my job seriously, but also know when to laugh—that keeps me in shape mentally. Physically, I change my routine frequently to keep it interesting.

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

They all think it is great and are very proud.

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

Absolutely! This is a great job for women as well as men. Stay active, keep in shape and reach out to people who support your dreams—family, friends, as well as firefighters—for encouragement. The best things don't come easy, so it is important to have support to get you through the hard spots. If there are training courses offered for the written and physical tests be sure that you participate and take them seriously. Finally, believe in yourself. You can do it!

Find resources for becoming a firefighter >>

View a timeline of the history of women firefighters >>

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