Training for the New Test (1978–82)

While the FDNY, city officials and the public debated the “merits” of women firefighters, women who had failed the physical section of the original firefighter exam began training to take the new firefighter physical test. Unlike the test Judge Sifton had thrown out which included “abstract” measurements of physical abilities like a standing broad jump and hanging from a chinning bar, the new test—developed solely by the City using incumbent male firefighters—included tasks that resembled those required of firefighters such as raising ladders, simulated forcible entry, dragging hose and “victims” (a dummy).
  • “Trial by Fire”

    A profile of one of the women firefighter candidates after she failed the 1977–78 firefighter physical exam, from January 1978. Ana Andrade is described as having worked out for three months in preparation, and quoted: “Arm strength was my biggest problem.… I didn’t want to be the first woman’ I just think it’s a good job. Even if I didn’t pass, there are still 499 women coming along and one of them will pass, just as long as they don’t get discouraged.”

    The women’s backgrounds ranged widely: student, teacher, housewife, attorney and plumber. Many women were from firefighter families, but most had no experience in blue-collar, male-dominated, “non-traditional” workplaces.

  • Getting ready for the test

    Firefighter candidates receive briefing before physical exam are pictured in this clipping from the Daily News circa 1982. The FDNY held a few “informational” sessions for potential women candidates to explain the new exam but virtually nothing was done by the Department to prepare either the women or their potential male firefighter co-workers for the change that was about to occur in the Training Academy and the firehouses. Women trained on their own, for the most part, and men reinforced one another’s prejudices.

  • Training for the physical exam

    Firefighter candidate Carol Walsh training for the physical exam, at home in 1982, watched by her children. Walsh was married to a firefighter.

    Early on the women firefighters did get some support women’s organizations such as NOW-NYC, but only a few of the new women firefighters identified themselves as feminists.

    Key early supporters also emerged in the City Council, including Council members Miriam Friedlander and Carol Greitzer and Council President Carol Bellamy.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • First group of women at training academy

    Women candidates and their trainers at the Fire Academy on Randall’s Island, 1982. The City ran a short pre-test prep course for the women candidates that led that FDNY to believe that only a dozen or so women would pass the new physical. Instead, more than 40 women passed.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • Dragging the dummy

    Candidate Ruth Russell performing the dummy drag portion of the new firefighter physical—a job-related task. At the FDNY Training Academy graduation of the first women firefighters in early November 1982, Mayor Koch stated in his speech that as long as a firefighter could rescue a 220-pound Mayor from a burning building, the sex of the firefighter saving people did not matter.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • Just passed the new exam

    Candidates Cecelia Salters (Owens Cox) and Teresa French high-fiving each other after passing the new firefighter exam, at the Training Academy, 1982. Cox worked as a sales rep for a map company before she started at the academy, and was married to a firefighter. Teresa French was a college student editing textbooks for the Board of Education.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • Taking a break

    Firefighter candidates Lois Mungay and Lorraine Cziko relaxing at the Training Academy, 1982. Cziko worked as a teacher before she started at the academy. Mungay had a degree in exercise physiology.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • Forcible entry simulation

    Candidate Carol Boykins, who worked at the Museum of Natural History before attending the academy, practicing the forcible entry simulation portion of the new exam at the Training Academy, 1982. The force needed to pound the rolled up fire hose simulates the effort needed to force open a locked apartment door.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • Dragging fire hose

    Candidate Cathy Riordan practicing the hose drag portion of the new exam at the Training Academy, 1982, another job-related task. Riordan was tending bar before entering the academy and had family members on the force.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • First women pass firefighting test

    This September 9, 1982 clipping from the New York Times reports women’s success on the new exam, giving brief descriptions of both the old and new exams: “The old test included a hand grip measurement, broad jumps, chinning on a bar, clearing an obstacle course, scaling walls, walking a ledge, carrying a 120-pound dummy and running a mile. The new test requires wearing full gear, weighing 50 pounds, including a coat, helmet, boots, gloves and air tank, while doing the following: dragging 80 pounds of water hose along the ground, carrying 46 pounds of hose up five flights of stairs, raising a 20- foot ladder, climbing to the second floor, entering a window, getting a 16-pound tool for forcing doors and carrying it up several flights, knocking a 60-pound object with an 8-pound hammer, and dragging a 145 pound dummy along a path. The new test allows a 7.5 minute rest; the old test allowed 5 minutes.”