Taking the Heat: The First Women Firefighters of New York City (2006)

Genres - Culture & Society, History  |   Sub-Genres - Biography, Careers, Gender Issues, Social History  |   Run Time - 60 min.  |   Countries - USA  |  
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A group of dedicated female firefighters struggle for the right to battle blazes alongside the most macho firemen in the entire country, only to be ostracized, humiliated, abused, and tormented by the very co-workers who were supposed to stick with them through thick and thin. Narrated by Susan Sarandon, Taking the Heat documents the remarkable story of Brenda Berkman and the first female firefighters of New York City. The year was 1977. New York City was gradually emerging from a financial crisis, and the eleven year hiring freeze imposed by the FDNY was finally set to thaw. Recent amendments to the law made it illegal for the FDNY to prohibit women from applying for the job, but when the first female applicants showed up for their entrance exam they were faced with what one New York City Assistant Personnel Director described as " the most arduous test we have ever given to anyone." Each of the ninety women who showed up to take the test failed. Brenda Berkman was a marathon runner and law student who longed to give back to her community. She failed Test 3040 along with the rest of the female applicants, and subsequently brought a class action suit against New York City and the FDNY. It was a landmark gender discrimination case, though Berkman's victory in the courtroom was only the prelude to an unbearable nightmare of discrimination and cruel mistreatment. Many of the male firefighters resented the judge's decision to allow women into the FDNY, and once the women were in the firehouses things turned ugly fast. In addition to deliberately sabotaging their female coworker's firefighting equipment, the male firefighters were openly hostile to the new employees - even going so far as to make death threats in some cases. This is the story of that landmark case, and it's explosive aftermath, as told from the very women who were there to experience these well-documented events firsthand.