Ahlam Ahmed, a senior at Al-Ihsan Academy in Queens, could become New York’s first-ever Muslim female firefighter, according to The Village Voice. Ahmed was one of the participants in the FDNY’s first Women’s History Month Female Outreach Event on March 28.
Women are a rarity among the FDNY. Only 44 of the city’s 10,4000 firefighters — 0.4% of the force — are women. Over the past few months, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro has pledged to ramp up recruitment efforts, re-examine the physical training program and testing requirements, and install female bathrooms in firehouses to make the program more inclusive of women. He hopes to eventually have a force that is 15-17% female, according to the Daily News.
Even among the women at the outreach event, however, the petite 18-year-old donning a hijab stood out:
Ahmed says she was concerned when she learned there were no observant Muslim female firefighters in the ranks. She was mostly curious about the uniform and dress code. “I have to be covered,” she says. “I love wearing the scarf. It’s for protection. When I’m covering my butt and my boobs and my hair I feel protected. I love it.”
“We try to accommodate religious practices,” says Elisheva Zakheim, an FDNY press officer. But the department has never had an observant Muslim woman in its ranks, so the question of how Ahmed might remain appropriately covered while in uniform is a new one. Zakheim says that while the FDNY respects all religious practices, “safety is our first concern, be it male or female” — a man in a long beard or a woman in a burka. “If you can’t wear the equipment, you’re putting your crew in danger. You’re putting New Yorkers in danger. We approach a lot of these questions on a case-by-case basis.”
Despite the uncertainty over whether she’ll be able to wear her religious attire, Ahmed is interested. “Yeah, I still want to be a firefighter,” she said.
(Photo: New York City Fire Department)