- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 10, 2014

NEW YORK (AP) - City Councilmembers and advocates told the Fire Department of New York on Wednesday that it must boost the number of female firefighters beyond the current 44 out of 10,500.

“In the year 2014, when women serve on the front lines of combat in our armed services, there is no reason for this lack of women in the FDNY,” said Council member Elizabeth Crowley of Queens, who chaired a hearing on examining ways to increase the number of female firefighters.

The proportion of the department that is female - about 0.4 percent - is far lower than the national average of 3.4 percent, and Crowley said cities like Minneapolis, with a Fire Department that’s 16 percent female, are setting the standard.

Crowley said “excessive testing” at the academy where probationary firefighters are trained “causes too many women to drop out.”

Crowley and city Council member Helen Rosenthal are sponsoring a bill that would require the Fire Department to provide data on the firefighter applicant pool broken down by race and gender, along every step of the application process.

Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro, who has held the position for six months, said he would provide the information.

Nigro said he will bring in an outside consultant in 2015 to make recommendations for changes at the fire academy “to ensure it’s a modern academy where everyone is given a fair chance to succeed.”

He said a benchmark to strive for would be a firefighting force that is 15 to 17 percent female.

Meanwhile, Nigro said, the 300 members of the next academy class that will start in the fall include “more than 10” women.

Nigro noted that a female firefighter in Philadelphia, Joyce Craig Lewis, died in the line of duty on Tuesday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with her family and with her colleagues,” he said.

The FDNY is already under a court order to hire a more racially diverse department after a black firefighters’ group filed a lawsuit.

Advocates who rallied in front of City Hall before the hearing said they will keep up the pressure for gender equity as well.

Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman noted that the Fire Department had 41 women in 1983 and has 44 now. “Three women in 32 years?” she asked. “Is that the best that New York City can do?”

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