Constance Fripp

Young, female and FDNY: ‘At any moment, when the tones go off, you may be called to save a life’

In 2012, Constance Fripp was exiting the 4 train at Utica Ave in Crown Heights, when FDNY recruiters asked her, “Hey, have you ever thought about becoming a firefighter?” Fripp, then a college student in criminal justice and political science, found the physical challenge of the job appealing, and she knew she wanted to do “something different” for a career. But she’d never even seen a female firefighter and wasn’t sure what the application process was. “It was perfect. I signed up for the Firefighter Exam right then and there,” she recalls.

Fast forward seven years later, and the 27-year-old is one of 87 female firefighters in the approximately 11,000-member FDNY. After completing the department’s candidate physical ability training, candidate mentorship, and fitness-awareness programs, Fripp joined Engine 283 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, where she’s been stationed for two years. We spoke with the Corona, Queens native about her proudest moment on the job and her advice to aspiring female firefighters.

What made you want to be a firefighter?

I’ve always sold myself as a helper. I’ve always had jobs that dealt with assisting people. I’ve worked with foster kids, veterans, and disabled populations. It gives me joy to be able to make someone else happy and leave them better off than they were prior to our first encounter.

The appeal as a firefighter is knowing that at any moment, when the tones go off, you may be called to save a life. If you’re not willing to risk your life in service of others, it isn’t the career for you, and in knowing that, I chose to continue on this path for as long as the job will have me.

I felt like my compressions are what saved that women’s life . . . I was just three weeks out of probie school. I wasn’t at a fire, and I didn’t pull anyone out of a burning building, but that night a life was saved by Engine 283.

What advice do you have for young women who want to join the FDNY?

Keep training. Don’t let anyone discourage you. I’m a peer trainer with UWF (United Women Firefighters Association of New York City), I recommend getting involved with them. You get one-on-one training from females on the job who know what they’re doing. They were so supportive of me even when I didn’t know how to do a pull-up.  

What’s the proudest moment of your career so far?

We were in an EMS run for a cardiac arrest and we were doing compressions for at least 25 minutes. The paramedics had pushed all their medications and were about to call the doctor for instructions on what to do next. I was up to do compressions; they would call after my two-minute round was done. At the end of my round they monitored and had an active pulse and were able to transport the patient to the hospital.

I felt like my compressions are what saved that women’s life. Obviously, it was a combination of myself, the rest of the guys, the EMTs and paramedics, but I was specifically proud of myself. I was just three weeks out of probie school. I wasn’t at a fire, and I didn’t pull anyone out of a burning building, but that night a life was saved by Engine 283.

How can we recruit more women to join the FDNY?

Recruitment efforts need to highlight all the work the department is doing to make the job more gender non-discriminate, for instance, using the term “firefighter” instead of “fireman” and ensuring that every firehouse has a female bathroom. At recruitment events, there should be at least two female firefighters. Yes, there are only 87 of us, but to get other females on the job, we will make the effort to be there to represent. I’ve been at events where there’s a line of females waiting to talk to me because I was the only female. That tells me we are in great demand.

Photo by Alex Tutiven. 
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