Fact: There are only 44 women out of over 10,000 uniformed firefighters in the New York City Fire Department (FDNY), the largest and most elite fire department in the world. This amounts to less than 0.5% and the lowest number of women out of all major fire departments in the U.S.

Fact: Cities like Minneapolis and San Francisco have up to thirty times more women serving in their fire departments.

Fact: 18% of New York City police officers are women.

Fact: 13% of U.S. combat troops are women.

Fact: Even after decades of court decrees and rulings, the FDNY has the lowest rate of female employees of any New York City agency – even its non-firefighters are predominantly male.

Fact: The FDNY is so behind the times that it would have to hire over 400 more women just to be at the national average.

Fact: Of the over 200 FDNY firehouses in New York City, 50 of them (25%) still do not have bathroom facilities for women.

“What is so unique about being a firefighter in New York City that excludes women?”

That was the question being asked at a rally held on the steps of City Hall this morning by New York City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, the United Women Firefighters (UWF), Council Members Helen Rosenthal, Laurie Cumbo and Ben Kallos, as well as a number of past and present pioneering women FDNY firefighters including Brenda Berkman.

The rally was the kick-off to an oversight hearing that examined the decades-old barriers facing women in the FDNY, such as unfair and irrelevant testing methods that may be preventing qualified, physically fit female probationary firefighters from graduating from the Fire Academy.

This comes during a time when there is more interest than ever before from women wanting to be FDNY firefighters, yet the number of women making it to the ranks is shockingly low.

The FDNY had 41 women in 1983 and has 44 in 2014. “Three women in 32 years? Is that the best that New York City can do?”

To get into the Fire Academy, every candidate (male or female) has to pass what’s known as the Candidate Physical Ability Test or CPAT, which is a test that determines if a man or woman is physically capable of training to be a firefighter. So of the women who do pass this test, why do such a large number of them then drop out of the Academy?

In attempting to answer this question, the hearing also considered Introduction 579, a bill sponsored by Council Member Rosenthal, which would require the FDNY to provide the NYC Council with information on the firefighter applicant pool, broken down by race and gender, along every step of the application process.

Present at the hearing were FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, flanked by his newly appointed (as of Oct. 1, 2014) Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, Pamela Lassiter, and Dr. David Prezant, the FDNY’s Chief Medical Officer.

Council Members took turns lobbing questions at the Commissioner that focused mostly on Fire Academy culture and physical training. Recognizing that there are systemic issues within the FDNY and emphasizing his commitment to address them, Nigro testified that he has brought on third party consultants to not only do diversity training in the City’s firehouses, but to examine any potential problems that may exist at the Fire Academy. The FDNY is also looking at “best practices” from other departments to make changes in their own.

Sarinya Srisakul, President of the United Women Firefighters, put the necessity of today’s hearing in perspective, “The Mayor and the FDNY need to end their use of illegal and extraneous barriers that keep qualified women out. This is an important civil rights issue of which the resolution is long overdue. Decades of the FDNY being an ‘old boys club’ has to stop.”

And circling back to those restrooms, or lack there of, Commissioner Nigro confirmed today that the FDNY has already added 4 new women’s bathrooms to existing firehouses, and 16 others are currently in development. That leaves just 30 more to go guys.

To be continued…