Breaking In To The Men's Club

By Glenn Thrush
Staff Writer

December 11, 2003, 8:06 PM EST

The men's club that is the New York Fire Department graduated four female probationary firefighters Thursday, a big leap for an organization that has hired only nine women without being compelled to by the courts.

While not exactly a feminist watershed, it was a significant step considering the 11,500-member uniformed force has only 25 female firefighters.

More are on the way: Fourteen women are likely to be admitted to the academy on the strength of perfect scores on the department's notoriously tough physical exam, department spokesman Frank Gribbon said.

"It's just a lot tougher for women," said Shkendi Demiri, 28, of Washington Heights, one of the "probies," speaking at the graduation of 292 academy graduates at Brooklyn College.

"I think, in general, that's just because it's predominantly male and you've got to get used to being with a bunch of men," she said. "I don't want any kind of special treatment."

The class also was one of the department's most diverse