Brenda Berkman

Firefigher, artist


Brenda Berkman (born 1951[1]) is a pioneering female firefighter. She filed the lawsuit that resulted in the first women being hired by the New York City Fire Department in 1982.[2] In 1977 the FDNY used a physical test that all the women applying to be firefighters failed, including Berkman; she sued on the grounds of gender discrimination and won, and a new test was created in which standards were changed so the test was job-related. Berkman and 40 other women passed the new job-related test.[3] (See Brenda Berkman, et al. v. The City of New York, CV-79-1813, 536 F. Supp. 177 (E.D.N.Y. 1982), aff’d Berkman v. City of New York, 705 F.2d 584 (2d Cir. 1983.)) She joined the FDNY in 1982.[4][5] The struggle of women to join the FDNY, and Berkman's part in it, was featured in a 2006 PBS documentary called Taking The Heat. [5] Berkman was the founder of the United Women Firefighters, an organization for women in the FDNY, and was its president from 1982 until 1986.[1][6] Her awards include: the Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women (1984), a Revson Fellowship on the Future of the City of New York, from Columbia University (1987-1988), the Distinguished Alumni Award from St. Olaf College, and the Women of Courage Award from the National Organization for Women (2002).[6] Berkman responded to the World Trade Center attacks, and in 2012 a self-portrait she created was exhibited at the 9/11 Decade Exhibit at the Westbeth Sculpture Gallery Annex.[7] Her experience was also featured in the book Women at Ground Zero: stories of courage and compassion.[8] She retired in 2006 at the rank of Captain.[2] She is openly lesbian, and was the first openly gay person to be a professional firefighter and a White House Fellow.