On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, New York City firefighter Brenda Berkman was off duty in her Brooklyn apartment when a friend called and told her to turn on her television. As soon as she saw the pictures of the north tower of the World Trade Center burning, she knew it was no accident.
She ran to the nearest fire station to grab whatever gear was available and rushed to ground zero. Berkman says there was nothing that could've prepared her for what she encountered, "I really thought there was a very good possibility I was going to die that day." But despite the danger, being underequipped and the mass chaos, she stayed with more than 10,000 other first responders to help.
Twenty years later, now retired, Berkman volunteers at the 9/11 Memorial. She said, "I want people to physically see that there were women first responders down at the World Trade Center doing their best to try and save and help other people." Berkman says women first responders were left out of the initial coverage of 9/11 and that history needs to tell the complete story of what happened that day. "It's really important that women be recognized as having made the same sacrifices, as having the same heroism as the men that they stood alongside that day," said Berkman.
Female representation and recognition is something Berkman has fought for since the very beginning of her career. She was the sole name class plaintiff in a lawsuit that resulted in the hiring of New York City's first female firefighters in 1982. Prior to 1977, females weren't allowed to even apply to join the FDNY. Berkman said, "I was tired of people saying to me, you can't do that because you're a girl. If I had a passion for something, if I had the talents and abilities to do that thing, then why shouldn't I be doing that thing?"
Berkman currently volunteers with Monumental Women, an organization that shares her mission to increase awareness and appreciation of women's history
Learn more about Berkman's journey in the FDNY and her continued fight for female recognition on this 20th anniversary of 9/11.