Police, fire departments asked to remove gendered language from training manuals

Legislative Gazette photo by Jessie Russell
Sarinya Srisakul, president of United Women Firefighters, shows how training manuals for fire departments still use gender-specific terms such as “fireman,” “nozzle man,” and “roof man”

A gender neutral bill, sponsored by Jo Anne Simon, D-Brooklyn, and Sen. Betty Little, R-Glens Falls, that would update outdated firefighter and police officer language recently passed the Senate and Assembly and is currently waiting to be delivered to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Simon and Little were joined by NYPD and FDNY Representatives and other colleagues on Tuesday, May 1 to speak about the bill.

The representatives included Sarinya Srisakul, President of United Women Firefighters; Regina Wilson, President of the Vulcan Society; Firefighter Antoinette Proctor, New York City Fire Department; and Chief Nilda Irizarry Hofmann, Community Affairs, New York City Police Department.

The bill (A.8321/S.6542) would replace words such as “fireman” or “policeman” with the words “firefighter” and “police officer.” This bill modernizes outdated language and promotes the idea that these jobs are not exclusive based on gender.

According to Simon, her bill would not mandate a change in training manuals, but rather change several sections of state law including the New York City administrative code.

However, she hopes that the departments would want to update any outdated language in their training manuals to be inclusive and to reflect the spirit of the state bill, especially if Cuomo signs the bill into law.

“The use of the gendered language ‘fireman’ or ‘policeman’ is antiquated and inaccurate,” Simon said. “It promotes an outdated worldview that suggests to young girls and young boys alike that law enforcement and firefighting are only open to men. This bill updates our laws to use gender neutral language and acknowledges the brave female firefighters and police officers who risk their lives to keep us safe every day. This simple update to our state laws can cause a profound change in how we perceive these professions and can help us create a more inclusive safety force.”

This year 4,181 women took the FDNY test, which is the highest number ever recorded in the history of women taking FDNY tests since females were hired in 1982.

“As more female Firefighters join our ranks, it’s important that the language of state laws is inclusive and accurately reflects FDNY’s growing diversity,” said New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “This update is long overdue and serves as a well-deserved show of respect to the many women who already bravely serve our city, and the more than 4,000 women who took the most recent FDNY Firefighter Open Competitive Exam.”

According to Simon, eliminating gender-specific language in state law will ensure that professions that were once seen as nontraditional for women are more likely to appeal to all people regardless of gender, and will promote the inclusion of women in the police and fire departments.

New York City Police Commissioner James O’Neill said, “The NYPD has adopted gender-neutral references to our personnel well over thirty years ago. All uniformed members of the department are referred to as police officers, as opposed to the prior designations of patrolman or policewoman. We welcome the formal adoption of this policy.”

In addition to serving as the president of the United Women Firefighters, Srisakul is the first and only Asian American firefighter in the FDNY. She referred to the FDNY manual that is used to study for the FDNY test, and pointed out that is gendered terms where “man” or “men” is used.

“Women have been working as firefighters in the FDNY for 36 years. Gendered language like ‘minimum manning over time,’ ‘fireman,’ ‘nozzle man,’ and ‘roof man’ is commonly used in the FDNY on an everyday basis,” said Srisakul. “This legislation is a great step forward to help the inclusion of women in the workforce as our numbers have steadily increased over the years. We have the most women firefighters and officers serving in New York City history and it is about time that the language used is reflective of that.”

According to Assemblyman Joe Morelle, D-Irondequoit, this next step will send the proper message to kids.

Morelle said, “Every person in the state should know and every child in particular, no matter who you are, you can achieve anything you want to achieve and fulfill all your dreams.”