New York City Firefighter.
Brenda Berkman retired on September 14, 2006 as a Captain in the New York City Fire Department and commander of Engine 239 in Brooklyn, where she fought fires and responded to other emergencies. She also served as a firefighter in Engine 47 in Manhattan, Engine 219 and Ladder 105 in Brooklyn, and as a Lieutenant in Ladder 12 in Manhattan. Special assignments have included assistant to the Chief of Safety, the FDNY Recruitment Unit and as an equal employment opportunity counselor and instructor.
Capt. Berkman began her career in the fire service in 1982, after winning the federal sex discrimination lawsuit she initiated that resulted in the hiring of New York City's first women firefighters. She founded and led the United Women Firefighters organization in New York City and has also led the national organization of women firefighters, Women in the Fire Service, as a trustee and President of the Board.
A noted writer and speaker on issues relating to the fire service and women in nontraditional employment, Berkman has been the subject of numerous radio and television programs and print media here and abroad. In October 2000, a play about Berkman entitled "Firework" opened off-Broadway. She was also profiled in Legal Momentum’s 2001 film “The Women of Ground Zero,” and the book The Women at Ground Zero (as well as many other books and magazine articles). The documentary film Taking the Heat, which chronicles Berkman’s struggle to integrate women into the FDNY, aired on American television in 2006.
In 1996-97, Capt. Berkman served as a White House Fellow in the office of the Secretary of Labor, the first professional firefighter to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship in the 40-year history of the program.
Berkman has a bachelor’s degree summa cum laude from St. Olaf College, a master’s degree in American History from Indiana University, a law degree from New York University and another master’s degree in Fire Protection Management from the City University of New York. She is a graduate of the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer program. Among the honors she has received are: citations for her career as a firefighter from the NY State Assembly and Senate, and the NY City Council; numerous awards from the National Organization for Women (NOW); honors from the Ms. Foundation, the NY Women’s City Club, the National Women’s Law Center, the New York Women’s Foundation and the Aspen Institute; the St. Olaf College Distinguished Alumni Award; the Revson Fellowship on the Future of the City of New York (Columbia University); and awards from the UK and Australian fire services.