By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN
Associated Press Writer
NEW YORK (AP) - One of New York's first female firefighters
became the department's first woman battalion chief Wednesday.
"It's an historic moment for the department," Fire
Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said. "Courage, bravery and
competence know no gender."
Rochelle "Rocky" Jones was promoted during a ceremony in
Queens as a contingent of female firefighters cheered and waved
hand-lettered signs that read "Rocky Rocks" and "Go Rocky."
Some said later that Jones' promotion from captain was a
reminder of how few women had followed her career path. Battalion
chiefs are among the department's highest-ranking officers, often
directing multiple fire companies at the scene of a fire.
Jones and 40 other women joined the department 20 years ago
after they successfully sued the city over the fairness of the
department's physical testing.
Even now, the department has just 21 female firefighters and one
woman fire marshal out of nearly 11,000 uniformed positions. Two
women are captains and one is a lieutenant, the rank immediately
below.
"It's going to take a very long time before another woman's
promoted to the rank of captain," said Capt. Brenda Berkman, a
co-plaintiff in the lawsuit.
"Rochelle Jones is our heroine," said Jane McAndrew, a
26-year-old carpenter who hopes to join the department. "She's an
inspiration to all women."
Jones downplayed suggestions that she was a role model or
trailblazer.
"You're doing your job is what you're doing," she said.
"Testing (for promotion) is the same for everyone, man or woman."
One female firefighter slipped reporters the business card of a
spokeswoman for the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, who said
in a subsequent telephone interview that the department wasn't
doing enough to recruit women.
Maureen McFadden said women make up as much as 20 percent of
other urban fire departments. The Fire Department of New York, she
said, needed to change its tradition as a largely white, male
institution where firefighting is a family legacy.
Fire officials cited Jones' promotion as a sign of the progress
the department is making in bringing on women.
More than 400 women who passed the department's written test are
expected to take the physical test in July and department spokesman
Frank Gribbon said he is optimistic that many will pass.
"We're very encouraged by their responses (to recruiting
efforts) and how well women did," Gribbon said. "We're hopeful
that they do well."
Another department spokesman said Jones will move through
several Brooklyn battalions - groups of anywhere from 5 to 12
firefighting companies - before assuming a permanent command.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)