Sarinya Srisakul, 34, has been working at Engine 5 in Manhattan. She visited her family members living in Thailand in 2007 and asked her taxi driver to a firehouse. Her story is about being a woman from Thailand who is often manifested in skepticism about how she contributes to society. She says, “They looked me up and down and stated, ‘They let ladies be firefighters in America?’”
Srisakul serves as president of the United Women Firefighters, an organization of female firefighters in the FDNY, Fire Department City of New York. Although the FDNY consists of mostly male, mainly white, the department is beginning to diversify. A 2009 federal court ruled that the FDNY’s hiring methods discriminated against any possible candidates of color. Asian-American firefighters were among those ethnic minorities.
Her journey began as a student in Parsons School of Design. She decided to drop out. “I’ve been an activist my complete life and generally wanted to assistance folks.” With art, she didn’t see that happening. Her contributions to society have been admirable to many. She took a job in New York City AIDS Housing Network, an NPO that assists low income New Yorkers with HIV and AIDS.
A female friend of hers, urged her to apply for a firefighting job test for the FDNY. “I went to the orientation, and it was a calling. This was what I wanted to do with my life,” Srisakul says. Her father was not shy of disappointment. “They told me not to do it… They never view it as a very safe job, or even a prestigious job. My dad was like, oh effectively, superior luck, you happen to be going to fail anyway.”
Over the past ten years, the number of minority firefighter has been rising from about ten percent to fifteen percent in 22014, according to Elisheva Zakheim, an FDNY spokeswoman. The number of firefighters also rose from 800 in 2005 and 10,500 in 2014. The FDNY still remains to be one the 39 cities with a great portion of white workers. The 2013 NYC Government Workforce Profile, a federally mandated report, shows that the FDNY had roughly 933 firefighters who were Hispanic, 504 as black, and 110 Asian. There were also 44 girls. “…the thing about this is you’re implementing a culture shift into a civil service system.”
Srisakul began to pursue her aspirations despite her fathers disliking. After rigorous training, she joined what she called “the minority squad” consisting of colored people and a female probationary firefighter.
“A lot of it is cultural. They’ll say, ‘I want to go into finance. Firefighters make far more cash than accountants but they still want to be an accountant because that is what their parents want.”
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-Sarah Mae Martin