What can you do to counteract fire service women's media invisibility?


FDNY Lieutenant Brenda Berkman has asked for your help. Please take a minute to support her efforts.

"For the fire and rescue service women who are upset about women's invisibility in the media coverage and public ceremonies surrounding the September 11 attacks, please do something about it. Write to the national media. Write to your elected representatives. Write to New York City officials."

"Help us out here. I am spending a huge percentage of my time trying to correct this inequity, but I can't do it alone."

Put your name on the line

Below is a sample letter of the type WFS has been sending to media representatives who have persisted in using the words "fireman" and "firemen" in their reporting. Readers are welcome to use it as a model for letters of their own, or to share it with supportive fire chiefs who might be willing to write letters to local newspapers and television stations.

"Like other Americans, I have spent many hours watching the televised news coverage of the September 11 terrorist attacks and their aftermath. I appreciated the thoroughness and sensitivity of much of your coverage, and I wanted to contact you with one particular concern.

"While your reporters, commentators, and news anchors were sometimes careful to use appropriate terminology in referring to the firefighters and police officers involved in these incidents, at other times they were not. In particular, firefighters were often called 'firemen,' or referenced in other ways that imply that all firefighters are male.

"The fire service community -- men and women alike -- is mourning losses of a magnitude we have never seen before, nor ever imagined we would see. I must tell you that it is very painful for some of us to be sent the message by the media that we are really not part of that community at all.

"Female firefighters have worked alongside their male counterparts for generations, and many have given their lives in the line of duty. Women were on the first responding engines to the Pentagon, and have been on the scene at Ground Zero in Manhattan since the beginning. We do not seek fame or glory in doing this work, but neither do we deserve to be made invisible. Surely it is long past time that archaic, gender-specific terms such as 'fireman' fall from use.

"At this moment of striking national unity, divisive language seems particularly inappropriate. We are all in this together, and our words should reflect that. I would ask that your journalists keep this in mind, and be consistent in referring to firefighters as firefighters."

In addition, Lt. Berkman made an excellent point in this regard at a recent fire service seminar, one that could be incorporated into letters to the media. She said that if, as it appears, the people behind the September 11 attacks are being sheltered by the Taliban forces, what better way to give a message that our country is opposed to everything the Taliban stands for than to make women visible in all of the roles and responsibilities we shoulder, including police officer, soldier, and firefighter?

Useful addresses and contact information:

ABC News
77 W. 66th St.
New York, NY 10019
Can be e-mailed directly from their website at
abcnews.go.com -- use "Contact ABC" link at lower left of page.

CBS News
51W. 52nd St.
New York, NY 10019
Can be e-mailed directly from their website at
www.cbsnews.com -- use "Feedback" link at lower left of page.

NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, NY 10112
Can be e-mailed direct from their website at
www.msnbc.com/news/ -- use "Write us" link in small print at very bottom of page.

P.O. Box 105366
Atlanta, GA 30345
Can be e-mailed direct from their website at
www.cnn.com -- use "Contact us" link in small print at very bottom of page.

Fox News Network
Viewer Services
1211 Ave. of the Americas
New York, NY 10035

The U.S. Congress is currently not receiving paper mail, due to safety concerns. E-mail addresses for your senators and representatives, as well as links to their websites, are available at

To read more

Read Lt. Berkman's comments at a November 14 awards banquet

The October issue of WFS' print newsletter, Firework, contains two articles on the subject of how women have been kept out of much of the coverage of 9/11. To join WFS and receive the newsletter, click here.

This page last updated 11/19/01


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