Rising through the ranks (1982–2008)

Despite harassment and other obstacles, FDNY women firefighters continued to do their jobs—and study for promotion as well. In 1992, Firefighters Margaret Moffatt and JoAnn Jacobs became the first women and the first African American woman, respectively, to be promoted when they became Fire Marshals. In 1994, Rocky Jones became the first woman to be promoted to Lieutenant, followed by Brenda Berkman, Marianne Monahan and Ella McNair.

Like their male counter-parts, FDNY women firefighters often have family on the job—and at times were inspired by them to try for the job. Two women in the first group of women firefighters were sisters—Mary and Jane Toohig—and they were followed by the sister teams of Kinga and Daiana Mielnik, Michele and Moira Fitzsimmons and others. Other women were married to firefighters or had brothers or other male family members on the job—sometimes that fact was in the media, but often those relationships were kept secret for fear of harassment.
  • Strong women pass the test

    Colleen Murtha, sisters Jane and Mary Toohig, and Carol Walsh, after they passed the firefighter physical test in 1982.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • Husband and wife on the force

    Clipping of an article from the Daily News in 1982 highlighting family relations on the job shows Carol Walsh in training, and quotes Jane and Mary Toohig, sisters in the first class of women firefighters. Even positive media attention could be a double-edged sword: some family members of the new women firefighters were themselves subjected to harassment.

  • The family celebrates

    Zaida Gonzalez and her family featured in a clipping from New York Magazine, January 10, 1983. Gonzalez’ attorney speculated that she was singled out for hostile treatment when she, together with Brenda Berkman, had been fired. Judge Sifton reinstated them to the force with full back pay and his strongly worded decision sharply criticized the Fire Department’s tolerance of harassment in the firehouse.

  • Co-workers marry

    Cecelia Salters married her Ladder 9 co-worker Andre Cox. The caption in the clip from the Daily News in 1990 reads: “Firefighters Cecelia Salters and Andre Cox smile bravely yesterday after exchanging vows at St. Albans Congregational Church in Queens. Wedding included fire engine, Fire Commissioner Carlos Rivera and plenty of smoke-eaters.”

  • First woman lieutenant in the FDNY

    Rocky Jones celebrates her promotion as the first woman Fire Lieutenant with her nephew Anthony, from a 1995 Newsday clipping.

  • First mother promoted to Lieutenant

    Marianne Monahan is pictured with her family as she becomes the first woman firefighter with children to be promoted to Lieutenant. Clipping from the Queens Daily News, September 12th, 1996.

  • First African American woman promoted
    to Lieutenant

    Ella McNair becomes the first African-American woman firefighter to be promoted to Lieutenant, in 2001.

    Courtesy of Tamiment Library

  • Sisters in the FDNY

    The Mielnik sisters—Daiana and Kinga—came on the FDNY in 2005 and 2003 respectively. Because of their Polish ancestry, the Mielnik sisters have been featured multiple times in Polish and Polish-American media. Clipping from Polish Daily News, July 1, 2005.

  • First woman squad leader

    Firefighter Joy Flores becomes the first woman to lead her training academy class squad in 2008.

    Courtesy of Joy Flores