Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, Senator Betty Little, NYPD and FDNY Representatives Announce Passage of Gender Neutral Bill to Update Antiquated Firefighter & Police Officer Language

May 1, 2018

Albany, NY – On Tuesday, May 1, 2018, Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn), Senator Betty Little (R-Glens Falls), and their colleagues announced the unanimous passage in both the Senate and Assembly of gender neutral legislation (A8321/S6542) to update antiquated and inaccurate language in state law relating to police officers and firefighters. They were joined by Sarinya Srisakul, President of United Women Firefighters; Regina Wilson, President of the Vulcan Society; Firefighter Antoinette Proctor, New York City Fire Department; and Chief Nilda Irizarry Hofmann, Community Affairs, New York City Police Department.

The bill would replace all instances of the words “fireman” or “policeman” with the words “firefighter” or “police officer.” This bill modernizes the outdated language in state statutes to promote the idea that the professions of law enforcement and firefighting are not exclusive based on gender, and to reflect the current reality of the women who hold professions in law enforcement and firefighting. Stamping out gender-specific language will ensure that professions that were once seen as nontraditional for women are more likely to appeal to all people, regardless of gender, and will promote the broad inclusion of women in every aspect of the police and fire departments.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon said, “The use of the gendered language ‘fireman’ or ‘policeman’ is antiquated and inaccurate. It promotes an outdated worldview that suggests to young girls and young boys alike that law enforcement and firefighting are only open to men. This bill updates our laws to use gender neutral language and acknowledges the brave female firefighters and police officers who risk their lives to keep us safe every day. This simple update to our state laws can cause a profound change in how we perceive these professions and can help us create a more inclusive safety force.”

“Last year we celebrated the centennial of women’s suffrage in New York State,” said Senator Betty Little. “This November we’ll have another cause for commemoration – the election of New York State’s first female state legislators, Ida Sammis and Mary Lilly, 100 years ago. They made quick work of it, blazing a trail for me and my female colleagues to follow! But, clearly more remains to be done and, in honor of what these two women accomplished, I think it would be very fitting to pass this legislation this year to update our state laws through the use of accurate and appropriate gender neutral titles.”

“As more female Firefighters join our ranks, it’s important that the language of state laws is inclusive and accurately reflects FDNY’s growing diversity,” said New York City Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. “This update is long overdue and serves as a well-deserved show of respect to the many women who already bravely serve our city, and the more than 4,000 women who took the most recent FDNY Firefighter Open Competitive Exam.”

New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill said, "The NYPD has adopted gender-neutral references to our personnel well over thirty years ago. All uniformed members of the Department are referred to as Police Officers, as opposed to the prior designations of Patrolman or Policewoman. We welcome the formal adoption of this policy."

“Women have been working as firefighters in the FDNY for 36 years. Gendered language like ‘Minimum Manning Over Time,’ ‘fireman,’ ‘nozzle man,’ and ‘roof man’ is commonly used in the FDNY on an everyday basis. This legislation is a great step forward to help the inclusion of women in the workforce as our numbers have steadily increased over the years. We have the most women firefighters and officers serving in NYC history and it is about time that the language used is reflective of that,” said Sarinya Srisakul, President of the United Women Firefighters and the FDNY’s first Asian-American female firefighter.

Regina Wilson, the first woman elected President of the Vulcan Society which represents Black Firefighters, said, “This bill is a major breakthrough for the inclusion of women in the workplace. Language is important and exclusive language that the FDNY has used every day has left an entire gender out from the important work women have contributed over the decades. New York State should be a leader in equitable language so fire and police departments across the county can all properly represent the women and men who selflessly pursue these paths regardless of gender stereotypes. The spirit of this bill is a great step in changing the attitudes of many in the general public so Firefighters and Police Officers won’t be thought of as only ‘firemen’ and ‘policemen’ but as jobs welcome to all.”

Assemblymember Crystal Peoples-Stokes, Chair of the Legislative Women's Caucus, said, “This is groundbreaking legislation that is absolutely imperative to how we all address inequality in this country and it starts here in New York State. Firefighter and police officer are gender neutral terms for brave and honorable individuals that work for public safety and don’t exclude any gender. The use of fireman/men and policeman/men are outdated and doesn’t promote an inclusive and welcoming environment for women in those workforces. It’s a small yet significant change in the use of language and passing this legislation is the right thing to do.”

“It is long overdue that we use language that reflects the years of participation and service women have bravely pursued as police officers and firefighters. This bill would allow for a simple but powerful change that is needed as more women continue to join ranks. I thank Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon for her leadership on this issue," said Assemblymember Nily Rozic.

"Women have been serving as police officers and firefighters for years in New York State with great honor and skill. I am proud to help ensure that our state law reflects the contributions of all genders to the maintenance of safety in our communities by supporting A.8321," said Assemblymember Carrie Woerner.

“I am pleased to join the movement against outdated gender references that are institutionalized in many industries, including our police and fire departments. The number of women in male-dominated fields has increased tremendously. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, almost 47% of U.S. workers are women, and more than 39% of women work in occupations where women make up at least three-quarters of the workforce. It is important that this is reflected in the language used in the workplace and I commend Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon and Senator Betty Little for taking this crucial step in the right direction,” said Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright.

“I am proud to support this piece of legislation that recognizes the gender diversity growing in our city’s first responders. There should be no room for old monikers and misconceptions about who wears the uniform of our police and fire departments. This bill is a full acknowledgment of the numerous women who proudly serve our communities and keep us safe,” said Assemblymember Maritza Davila.

Assemblymember Aravella Simotas said, “I wholeheartedly support this bill which brings outdated aspects of the law into our modern world, where women are welcomed, recognized and appreciated for their hard work as police officers and firefighters. Gender-neutral words matter and open doors to more women in these professions. Words can plant seeds of hope in little girls who would understandably think they couldn’t be a fireman or policeman.”

"It is important that we provide the same level of respect to female firefighters and police officers because they risk their lives every day," Assemblymember Amy Paulin said. "If we eliminate gender-specific language, these professions are more likely to appeal to all people regardless of their gender."

Assemblymember Barbara Lifton said, "As a former English teacher, I know how powerful words are, conveying our attitudes and values. When we hear "fireman" or, pertinent to my work world “Assemblyman,” we don't think of a woman; in our mind, we see a man, and it leads us to only imagine a man in those roles. It's critical that our words are gender-neutral so that all people are seen as candidates for any job in our society."

“Some of New York’s bravest women serve as firefighters and police officers,” said Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal. “Updating our laws to include gender-neutral language is a small act that can have a substantial impact and let young girls know that their gender should never hold them back from pursuing their ideal career.”

Assemblymember Didi Barrett said, “Codifying this bill into law will send a message that New York values the work done by women for decades in our fire and police departments, and will open the minds of young women to the career opportunities available to them as a firefighter or police officer. As women around the world attain the highest offices in the public and private sectors, it's time New York transitions to gender-neutral titles in our emergency service and law enforcement professions."

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said, “Updating the language in our state laws relating to police officers and firefighters is long overdue. For decades, women have risen through the ranks in both fire and police departments across our state, but gendered language has continued to misrepresent and undermine their achievements and dedication. Gendered terms also create an invisible barrier to entry for women and young girls who regard firefighters and police officers as role models and wish to begin careers in law enforcement or firefighting. We have to dismantle these barriers sooner rather than later. Thank you to Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon for her leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working together towards gender equality in New York and beyond.”