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  • Fire captain Brenda Berkman in New York

    Fire captain Brenda Berkman in New York

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The Film

What if your gender prevented you from applying for a job, and once you were allowed to apply, the rules changed to make it impossible for you to qualify? What if you took legal action to be considered fairly for the job but then faced overwhelming discrimination and hostility from your co-workers? Welcome to the world of Captain Brenda Berkman and the first women to join the New York City Fire Department.

Taking the Heat: The First Women Fire Fighters of New York City tells the story of Berkman and the small group of women who dared to want a “man’s job.” Through one-on-one interviews, filmmaker Bann Roy exposes the loneliness, violence, and even sexual abuse these women endured to serve their communities.

As NYC emerged from financial crisis in 1977, the New York City Fire Department lifted an 11-year hiring freeze and began advertising for new recruits. With the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the FDNY was legally required to allow women to apply for the job of firefighter for the first time in history.

The FDNY reacted by unveiling a new firefighter entrance exam. When 90 out of 400 eligible women took the new physical test, all of them failed. Brenda Berkman, a marathon runner and a law student at New York University was among them.

Rather than walk away quietly, Berkman sued New York City and the FDNY for gender discrimination on behalf of women applicants — and won. The city was ordered to give the women a revised test — dubbed by many male firefighters as “the soft test” — and Berkman and the other women became instant targets for derision and anger from city officials, residents, and even co-workers. Male firefighters allegedly tampered with the women’s safety equipment, sometimes even bleeding the oxygen out of their air tanks.

The Filmmakers

  1. Anirban RoyDirector
  2. Barbara Multer-WellinProducer