"This is one of the best Christmas gifts that I have ever gotten," said 31-year-old Carter on Wednesday. The lifelong Hoboken resident, who currently works as a bartender, said that she is extremely eager about the opportunity to serve in a community that she grew up in. "You can't imagine how excited I am," she said. "It's a great job."
Mayor David Roberts, a former Hoboken firefighter himself, said that the significance of Thursday's ceremony should not be overlooked. "We are at a historic moment," he said. "We now live in a world in which people are no longer classified by gender but by their ability. These women have passed all the prerequisite requirements, and Hoboken is ready to accept them into the ranks of the city's fire service."
Diaz, 29, decided that she wanted to be a firefighter while she was at Navy boot camp in Orlando, Fla. For two years she served her country by working on the decks of aircraft carriers. "I'm a little in shock still and a little nervous," said Diaz just moments before her name was called to take the oath. She added that she hopes her success will inspire other women to go out and take the firefighters' test and pursue a career in a rewarding field that may have seemed inaccessible before.
Fire Chief John Cassesa said Thursday that he is proud and pleased that Hoboken is the first in the county to hire women. "It feels really good," he said. "Hoboken likes to be first and set the standard in [Hudson County]." There are two female firefighters on the Jersey City list to be hired as firefighters in that town, but they have not been hired yet.
According to Cassesa, Diaz and Carter will go on the payroll when they begin their eight-week training course at the Bergen County Fire Academy on Dec. 26.
Cassesa said that he is fully confident that both women will be able to perform any task asked of them, and said that any concerns that females might not be able to do the job are misguided. He said that they passed federally mandated physical fitness test that is administered to all prospective firefighters. "To get where they are, they have already beaten out a good number of men," said Cassesa.
Another issue is unlike most jobs where the shift eventually ends, firefighters stay in the firehouse 24 hours at a time, drilling, cooking, and sleeping in close quarters. "Everybody is just going to have to adjust," he said. "Things are going to be assessed as we go along, but I don't foresee there being any problems at all."
Diaz and Carter will be joining what is considered to be one of the best fire departments in the country.
According to the Insurance Services Office (ISO), Hoboken is a Class One fire department. The ISO is a nationwide nonprofit service organization that provides rating and other services to property and casualty insurance industries. The objective of the survey is to recognize the impact that effective public fire protection has on individual property fire rates, given that public fire protection can affect the percentage of loss value that could be expected in a fire situation. The latest revision of the ISO's Fire Suppression Rating Schedule classifies fire protection into 10 categories, Class 1 recognizing the highest level of fire protection and Class 10 recognizing the lowest or no level of fire protection. Of the more than 37,000 fire departments subject to ISO survey in this country, only 32 are rated as Class 1.
Still struggling for the first rung
Over the past two decades, it has been a struggle for women to break into the male-dominated field of firefighting. Nationwide, approximately 6,000 women work as full-time firefighters, accounting for as much as 15 percent of the departments in Minneapolis, San Francisco, and Miami-Dade County, according to Women in the Fire Service, a Madison, Wisc. nonprofit research group. Another 40,000 women volunteer with fire departments. Currently, there are about 275,000 full-time male firefighters.
According to their figures in 2001, there were only 16 female firefighters in New Jersey, a number kept low because of the state's policy of giving preference to veterans, another group that is predominately male.
Across the river, there aren't many more women working in fire stations. Though the department began hiring women almost 20 years ago, New York City has just 29 female firefighters out of about 11,000 total.
Nine more new firefighters
In addition to the two female firefighters, the city swore in nine male firefighters Thursday, for a total of 11 new firefighters.
Also according to city Business Administrator Robert Drasheff, there were several promotions made. Two captains were promoted to battalion chief, and in the department's effort to eliminate the rank of lieutenant, nine lieutenants and two firefighters will be promoted to captain. All the firefighters being promoted have agreed to wave their salary increases for one year, Drasheff said.
In one of the more touching moments of the day, retired firefighter Rocky LaGuardia, who spent 25 years on the in the force, presented new Hoboken fire recruit Michael Hayes, his grandson, with his badge.
The firefighters were hired Thursday were: Antonio Tamborra, Samuel Torres, Michael Hayes, Danny Montoto, Maria Diaz, Michael Casazza, Alfredo Perez, Audra Carter, Joseph Volaric, Daniel England, and Robert Chaneski.