Stay up to date with the latest from MAKERS delivered straight to your inbox. Sign up for new stories from trailblazing women, a big dose of inspiration, and exclusive MAKERS content.

Newsletter Confirmation

Thank you for joining! Please check your inbox for our special welcome letter
with exclusive updates from MAKERS.


Being the Boss

Being the Boss

More From Brenda

In this video

How years of harassment by men in the fire department end up making Berkman an ideal boss.

Brenda's Biography

Cause of Choice: Girls Prep Lower East Side Elementary School
Role Models:  Billie Jean King, Gloria Steinem, and Betty Friedan
Trial Run: Before taking on the FDNY, she worked as a lawyer on sexual discrimination cases brought by female NYPD officers.
Awards and Accolades: In 1996-97, she served as a White House Fellow, the first professional firefighter to be awarded this prestigious leadership development fellowship.

Brenda Berkman served the City of New York for 25 years before retiring in 2006 as a captain in its storied Fire Department. Her bravery was twofold: Berkman was summa cum laude graduate of St. Olaf College and was practicing law with a New York University J.D. when, in 1977, the Department began, grudgingly, to allow women to test for firefighter positions. The young lawyer, and FDNY applicant, challenged the fairness and relevance of the newly intensified physical test and won a federal sex discrimination lawsuit that truly opened the Department to female firefighters for the first time. Berkman was among the first class of women hired.
Captain Berkman has led organizations of women’s firefighters in both the New York City and nationally while earning one Master’s in American History and another in Fire Protection Management. By now, Berkman’s deep commitment to her Department and to the people of New York has long outlasted the sexual and workplace harassment that came with her pioneering career. To honor friends and colleagues who were lost on 9/11, she volunteers as a guide for walking tours at the Tribute WTC Visitor Center in Lower Manhattan. 

Related Videos

Nichelle Nichols
Nichelle Nichols
Star Trek Actress & NASA Recruiter

Nichelle Nichols is an American actress and singer. As Lieutenant Uhura on the legendary television series Star Trek, Nichols played, in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, &ldquo...

Maria Klawe
Maria Klawe
President, Harvey Mudd College

Maria Klawe the fifth president of Harvey Mudd College. A renowned mathematician, computer scientist and scholar, Klawe is the first woman to lead the College since its 1955 found...

Julie Rofman
Julie Rofman
Artist & Jewelry Designer

An artist and business owner, Julie Rofman is a Venice-based painter, sculptor, and jewelry designer whose colorful beadwork bracelets have sold online and in over 100 stores world...

Nevine Michaan
Nevine Michaan
Yoga Instructor

Nevine Michaan was born in Egypt in 1954 and moved to New Rochelle, N.Y., at the age of three. She began studying meditation and yoga after college, and soon began training in New ...