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Thread: Firefighter's Widow Seeks to Fill a Husband's Boots

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    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Firefighter's Widow Seeks to Fill a Husband's Boots

    Firefighter's Widow Seeks to Fill a Husband's Boots
    By COREY KILGANNON


    Sigalit Brunn says she has been groping her way through life since her husband, Andrew Brunn, a New York City firefighter, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center. So she has decided to try to become a firefighter to take his place.

    "After Sept. 11, I couldn't see myself doing anything else," she said. "It's the only thing that makes me feel better. I feel him around me, and I know he's going through it with me and he's very proud."

    Ms. Brunn, 30, is seeking to do what very few women have ever done: become a New York City firefighter. With about 70 other women, she is training at a boot camp to prepare for the physical part of the exam, which will be given by the New York City Fire Department this summer.

    Ms. Brunn said that she had regularly worked out with her husband while he trained for the 1998 test, and received pointers from him.

    "He always wanted me to do everything he did, so I went through it all with him," she said. "Now I have to go through it by myself."

    Ms. Brunn served two years in the Israeli Army and says that she is in good shape and getting ever fitter.

    Still, she acknowledges that she has an uphill climb. Of the city's roughly 11,000 firefighters, only 22 are women. Of the 5,000 firefighters hired by the department since 1990, only 9 are women. These numbers have been criticized by women's organizations as being ridiculously small.

    But the Fire Department is flooded with female applicants this year. In December, according to the department, 547 women took the written test and 501 passed. In 1998, when the previous test was given, 473 women took it and 301 passed.

    The number of men who passed the written test went up from 14,477 in 1998 to 16,322 in December. One of the successful 1998 applicants was Mr. Brunn.

    On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the Brunns left their apartment in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and Mr. Brunn, a 28-year-old rookie firefighter, dropped off his wife at her office in Manhattan, where she was a systems analyst for Verizon, then went to his firehouse in Greenwich Village to work the day shift, and was soon sent to the trade center.

    From her office, Ms. Brunn watched the trade center's north tower collapse. "I knew he was in there," she said. She sat outside his firehouse for two days straight, hoping he would return. He never did.

    Devastated, she quit her job and returned to college. But then she concluded that she could only console herself by trying to fill her husband's boots.

    "Personally, I don't care if I live or die, but I want to save lives," she said.

    The city firefighter job is a coveted one, and the test, a civil service exam given only every few years, is fiercely competitive. After passing the written part, applicants must take a physical test consisting of eight drills simulating potential firefighting situations that require impressive strength and speed.

    They include the weighted-dummy drag, the hose advance and the ladder extension. Only applicants who score a perfect 100, or close to it, have a good chance of being hired.

    Capt. Brenda Berkman, a 21-year veteran who has volunteered to train dozens of women taking the physical tests, said that there was no reason Ms. Brunn could not pass the physical test. Firefighters do not have to be big and brawny, she said, although that stereotype often discourages women from applying.

    Kathy Rodgers, president of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, said that many other cities have a higher percentage of female firefighters than New York City does.

    "Too many good jobs like firefighting have been closed to women for too long," she said. "Lack of upper-body strength is the excuse, but what's really at the heart of it is old-fashioned bias"

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    Registered User SeaBreeze's Avatar
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    Sigalit Brunn is training for the firefighters' test. She served in the Israeli Army, and believes she can meet the Fire Department's demanding standards.

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