The Female Lead

Brenda Berkman – A Firefighter and Trailblazer

As part of Edwina Dunn’s tour of New York City, she took one of the local Female Leads, retired fire captain, Brenda Berkman, to a public primary school in lower Manhattan.

Captain Brenda Berkman served the New York City Fire Department for 25 years. Brenda began her career in the fire service after winning a federal sex discrimination lawsuit that she initiated and which resulted in the hiring of New York City’s first women firefighters. Her bravery and contribution to women’s rights is epic in having taken on this battle. Her story is one of tenacity and self belief. Brenda told the children how she always wanted to be a fire fighter and, although she didn’t know a single female role model who worked in any sort of physically demanding job role; Brenda was undeterred in pursuing this dream.

Brenda’s honours include serving as a White House Fellow; the first professional firefighter to be awarded this fellowship in the history of the program. She has led both local and national women firefighters’ organizations. And since retirement Brenda has focused on a new passion of printmaking, as well as the volunteer work that she remains committed to. Brenda shared with the school children some of the prints she created to honour the rebuilding of the World Trade Center.

Brenda talked to the children about how we often don’t realize the role women play as first responders. One 10-year-old boy said that although his parents told him about 9/11 and Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, he didn’t realize that women helped out in relief efforts. And that is the reason for Brenda’s life work, as well as, Edwina’s goal in growing The Female Lead worldwide.

“In a small way I was trying to challenge the stereotypes and fears that keep us from achieving our greatest potential."