Brenda Berkman

Brenda Berkman

First female firefighter, who challenged NYFD discriminatory practices

Don’t let stereotypes hold you back!

Brenda Berkman isn’t just a pioneering firefighter in the city of New York. She is also a lawyer, and a woman who has dedicated her life to fight an ever prevalent gender stereotype that exists in our society. She gave up law to become a firefighter because that was her true calling and she wouldn’t let anything stand in her way. Her motivation to push forward, despite roadblocks in her way, was to defeat the stereotypes and fears that keep women from achieving their potential.


Born: 1951

Country: United States of America

Profession: Captain, Firefighter in New York City Fire Department

Best known for: First female firefighter, a woman who challenged NYFD discriminatory practices and paved a path for future female firefighters in New York City Fire Department

Contribution to success: She just wanted to do her job, and used her law degree and skills to achieve social justice. She attributes her success to perseverance, but to us she is the definition of courage!

Interesting fact: Ms. Berkman was the sole named class plaintiff in a lawsuit that allowed women to be firefighters in the New York Fire Department

Why we chose her: Ms. Berkman highlights the importance of allies, something that resonates with our message. During her treacherous struggles against bias and gender stereotype in New York Fire Department, she credits the leaders of the Vulcan Society (society of black firefighters) for being her biggest supporters and being instrumental in her ability to persevere. She was known as “Chief Troublemaker” but in reality, she was a problem-solver. As we were looking into her, we took the time to watch the documentary “Taking the Heat” and we highly encourage you to spend an hour of your time and witness her bravery, passion, unwavering commitment to her job and importance of equity for women.

Our favorite quotes by Ms. Berkman:

“In a small way I was trying to challenge the stereotypes and fears that keep us from achieving our greatest potential.”

“The FDNY had put in a bunch of obstacles that did not adequately measure the ability of a firefighter to the job. So I fought back.”

“I refused to quit something I loved because some men felt women shouldn’t be doing it …”

“If you are not ready for the deep end, go in the wading section and transition to the deeper water when you are ready.”

Documentary: Taking the heat

Video: Brenda Berkman: Pioneering Woman Firefighter

Karina Salfeld