WYSK Profile: Brenda Berkman

Video Profile 12 Comments

Captain Berkman retired from the New York City Fire Department in 2006 after 25 years of service, which included her critical role as a first responder to the World Trade Center disaster site on September 11, 2001 and in the many months following.  She began her career in the fire service after winning the federal sex discrimination lawsuit she initiated that resulted in the hiring of New York City’s first women firefighters.  The documentary Taking the Heat, which chronicles Brenda’s struggle to integrate women into the FDNY, aired on PBS in 2006. She has also been profiled in several books and numerous articles.  In 1996-97, Captain Berkman served as a White House Fellow, the first professional firefighter to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship in the history of the program.  She has also led both local and national women firefighters’ organizations.

Today, Brenda is a printmaker, specializing in stone lithography.  She started studying printmaking at the Art Students League in New York City two years after retiring from the FDNY.  In 2011, Brenda decided, for the first time, to deal with her 9/11 experience in her art.  She drew and created the stone lithograph print “2001”, a self-portrait depicting a bent over figure, covering her head and moving away as if under attack from above.

Most recently, Brenda put together The 9/11 Decade, a special collaborative art project featuring a diverse group of fourteen artists from different backgrounds, generations and perspectives.  Each artist contributed by creating their personal responses to the events of September 11, 2001 in the form of a monoprint (unique single works based on the same matrix image).

Each of the 21 monoprints featured in The 9/11 Decade project is based on Brenda’s stone lithograph print “2001”.  Of the 21, Brenda created 9, which depict the ten year progression of her 9/11 experience – as a World Trade Center first responder, as a search, rescue and recovery worker at Ground Zero for nearly 10 months, all the way through where she is today.  The 11 monoprints contributed by the other thirteen artists (two worked in pairs) speak to their individual 9/11 experiences, memories and reflections.  By showcasing her 9 monoprints alongside their 11, the exhibit’s construction, in and of itself, is a symbolic reference to that transformative day.

Brenda’s hope is that this project honors the people lost that day and the many workers and volunteers who helped at the Trade Center. She and the other artists also hope the project provokes critical thinking about our country’s actions in the last ten years and provides healing and a way forward for both the artists and the viewers.

The 9-11 Decade exhibit is currently on display in New York City at Westbeth Gallery through September 17, 2011.

* The Brenda Berkman WYSK profile was filmed in New York City at the World Center Hotel.  We would like to thank the World Center Hotel for generously providing the suite.
  • judith schultz

    Multi-dimensional women like Brenda are our super heroes without the tights and capes. Together, they can save the world.

  • Oren

    Great profile. She is definitely someone we should all know.

  • Manjula

    But for Women you should know, I would never have known about all the brave women featured in it. Kudos to the team. Let the ‘woman power’ emerge!!

  • Shirley Rubin

    Brenda Berkman deserves national recognition!!! Thanks to the team bringing her to our attention.

  • Robert King

    It is not only women who appreciate what Brenda has accomplished.

  • Christine

    God bless you, Brenda…You are the Rosa Parks that allowed me to take that front seat on the EMT-P bus…I worked EMS for 27 years (and I mean WORKED) because I wanted to matter. I had to lift more, be faster to answer the calls, quicker and more accurate on my radio transmissions, had my male co-workers all together pounding on the door and making rude comments when I was in the bathroom, and I polished more lightbars and chrome than all the guys put together. I had to fill the cascade system, was drilled on my paperwork, and was told over and over again that I should be barefoot and pregnant, not in the station with the “real men”. I worked hard, and diligently, and finally won the respect of my coworkers. It took more than 15 years. When 911 hit, I was in California. I could hear the PAD’s going off during the news reports, and I felt my heart being ripped out. I was helpless to help my Medic brothers and sisters…It was extremely traumatic for me…the depression was overwhelming…if only I could have been there to help…that is camaraderie…gender had nothing to do with it. It was the love of the EMS family that tortured me as I watched helplessly. I can relate to your struggles, and I thank God for you for making a way for me. Yes, it was degrading at times, and always hard work, both physically and emotionally, but Love always finds a way. And I still and always will love EMS…I tell my newbee students (I teach medic skills now) that there is no better job God’s great world than to be a member of the EMS family. Thank you for opening that door for me and all the other great female firefighters, medics, and officers. Christine

  • michael naydan

    Thats all fine and good. But with all her activism, even stemming from her early Little League years, did she REALLY have time to DO THE JOB ? Beleive me , I am a male, and to do this job correctly, you have to have your head in the game 24/7 on duty. By the way, I got 30 yrs in ON THE LINE. I beleive if you gotthe calling and can do the job from the jump, you deserve it and I will back you. But sometimes you here this stuff, its like my fat -ass being a ladies underware model, just because the law says I can. Forget my fat ass…I want it. harumph, harumph..

  • Pingback: Women You Should Know Women Firefighters Celebrate Game Changing Victory Won 30 Years Ago()

  • Pingback: Women You Should Know The Most Inspiring Lunch Table In Town - Women You Should Know()

  • Pingback: Women You Should Know Happy Birthday To Me... Now Here's My Gift To You! » Women You Should Know()

  • Pingback: Women You Should Know MAKERS Women Who Make America Documentary()

  • Pingback: Captain Brenda Berkman Made Me Cry()