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FDNY needs more women, less testing, council member says

The number of female firefighters in New York City pales in comparison to the fire departments of such cities as San Francisco, women serving in the NYPD as well as in combat roles.

According to the New York Fire Department, there only 44 women firefighters out of the 10,500-strong force.

Council member Elizabeth Crowley believes too few women are in the department because rigorous testing in the academy forces them out in higher numbers than male recruits.

“The academy is supposed to be for training, not continued testing,” Crowley said, adding women who enter the academy are already evaluated to be physically and mentally fit for the job.

On Wednesday, Crowley and other supporters of female firefighters rallied at City Hall before a hearing that discussed ways to increase the number of women in the FDNY.

In San Francisco, 13 percent of firefighters are women, Council member Helen Rosenthal said. Some 18 percent of the NYPD are women, and 13 percent of U.S. combat troops are female.

“In New York City, the number is .4 percent. It’s appallingly low,” said Rosenthal, who is sponsoring a bill that would require the FDNY to keep track of academy entrance and graduation statistics. “What we need is the fire department to justify why that’s the case, why it is that New York City is so wildly unique.”

Sarinya Srisakul, president of the United Women Firefighters, said the FDNY would need to hire more than 400 women to be on par with cities across the country. Srisakul read testimony from a female firefighter who said her training was “so brutal and excessive” she felt like a “ghost” at the end.

“They just tried to weed her out, and that’s the type of psychological and physical damage that we’re talking about,” Srisakul said.

“We want to know why so many women are not graduating from the academy,” said Daiana Mielnik, 31, who graduated from the academy in 2005 with one other woman.

“When people are timed, it’s a push to rush rush rush through it, and not really do things properly,” Mielnik said of testing, which was more of a “training tool” when she was studying.

“We need to ensure we are using all resources to help women navigate through the hiring and academy process successfully,” Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said at the hearing. “I hired an executive team that is diverse, ensuring women are always at the table when major decisions are made in the FDNY."

Nigro said an outside consultant will be coming to the academy in 2015 to make recommendations on physical training and female recruits.

According to the FDNY, 1,952 women took the firefighter test in 2012.

 
 
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