Firewomen Arrive On Scene To Help Harp Blast Through Ceiling

Melissa Bailey PhotoToni Harp stood Wednesday with black female 9/11 responders who broke the glass ceiling—and vowed to break her own glass ceiling next week.

Harp (pictured above holding New Haven firefighter Erika Bogan’s helmet), the Democratic candidate for mayor, made the remarks at a press conference at the Elks Lodge on Webster Street, where she received an endorsement from the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters (IABPFF).

Harp vowed to beat independent candidate Justin Elicker in next Tuesday’s election and become the city’s first female—and first African-American female—mayor.

Harp commended a half-dozen black women for breaking a “glass ceiling” and joining fire departments occupied mostly by white men.

“I am honored and proud to accept your endorsement, and I hope to blast through that ceiling next week,” said Harp.

Before and after the event, the campaign played its theme song, Alicia Keys’ “Girl On Fire,” which took on an added meaning.

Harp had already received an endorsement from New Haven’s black firefighters association, the Firebirds, in August. Lt. Gary Tinney (pictured), a past president of the Firebirds, convened a second event Wednesday to bestow on her the endorsement of the larger IABPFF. Tinney is the vice-president of the IABPFF’s regional chapter, which represents some 1,500 members in Philadelphia, Boston, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Wednesday’s event drew about 20 black firefighters to the Elk’s Lodge, including several from New York.

Regina Wilson (pictured) spoke emotionally about her time helping victims of the 9/11 attacks in New York, where she has served as a firefighter for 14 years. The fire department in New York had to be sued to let women in, she noted. The first 41 women joined the force in the 1980s. She said women have yet to gain a large foothold on the force: Out of some 10,500 firefighters across New York City, only 35 are women. Of those women, only four are black.

“We have to continuously tear down” walls to build inclusiveness and diversity in the department, she said.

She said the iconic images of first-responders from 9/11 usually depict men, ignoring the women who spent months at the toxic site.

Wilson vowed to return to New Haven to help Harp’s campaign on Election Day to support her fellow firefighters and Harp’s historic candidacy.

Erika Bogan (pictured), one of 11 women on New Haven’s 270-person firefighting force, spoke of the discrimination women face on the job.

“We are prejudged and labeled,” she said. She argued that women are better suited to certain aspects of a firefighter’s job, including nurturing a scared child and comforting a female sexual assault victim who would not want to be around men.

Harp called Bogan, Wilson, and their colleagues “sheroes.”

“I can’t help but be moved by the support of the women sheroes here,” Harp replied upon accepting the endorsement.

She vowed to help get more women on the firefighting force.

After the speech, she expanded on how she would do that. She said she would support the public safety academy at Hillhouse High School; conduct more “aggressive recruitment” of women; and employ ambassadors like Bogan to spread the word about women’s options in a fire services career.

“A lot of women don’t know they can go into fire and police and have satisfying careers,” Harp said. That’s partly because “often the symbols we see [of firefighters] are male symbols.”

Bogan agreed that the message isn’t reaching women. She said when she looked to go back into the workforce after she had kids, firefighting wasn’t on her radar. So she became a 911 operator first.

“I didn’t know about it,” she said of firefighting. “I wasn’t aware that any job like that existed.”

Bogan now has 16 years on the job. She said she has been involved in every recruitment drive, and in speaking to young women about her career.

“If I can do it, you can do it,” she tells them.

In addition to receiving the endorsement, Harp collected a few donations from out-of-town firefighters such as John Coombs and Tracy Lewis (pictured) of New York.

Coombs, president of the Vulcans black fraternal firefighting association in New York, said he supports Harp in order to stand in solidarity with his fellow firefighters.

“Their concerns are our concerns,” Coombs said.

He said he would not be able to come back to help on Election Day, given that there’s also an election in New York. “We expect to be overwhelmed with our own stuff.”

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posted by: Razzie on October 30, 2013  5:20pm

I am so very impressed with the work they do to keep us safe and secure, whether it is in New York or New Haven, or anywhere else. Women can do the jobs that men traditionally kept to themselves. Best wishes to our female firefighters!!!

posted by: Noteworthy on October 30, 2013  8:40pm

There are no worse reasons to vote for somebody than sex or color.

posted by: SteveOnAnderson on October 30, 2013  8:42pm

Cue white male NHI commentariat (supporting the white male mayoral candidate) complaining about sexism and racism being waged against them…

posted by: Gener on October 30, 2013  11:07pm

Did New Haven’s white firefighters association endorse a candidate yet?

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on October 31, 2013  7:48am

How many of these people actually live in new haven?  I think this has been a constant question that comes up when ever a group of people who WORK in NH endorse Harp who probably don’t even live in this city but doesn’t get answered.

If they really want to have a voice in NH’s elections maybe they should push to restore municipal government.

posted by: Elm City Lifer on October 31, 2013  10:38am

According to this list published in the independent back in august

Tinney and Bogan live in hamden and cohens and fireman union president kottage who are named in todays NHR article about this live in hamden and madison respectivley. whoever the other firewoman are in the picture it doesnt say thier name so who knows except the new york people.

posted by: Razzie on October 31, 2013  3:44pm

@ Noteworthy

I don’t find it very compelling to vote for someone simply because they do (or don’t) accept public money to run their campaign.

posted by: Razzie on October 31, 2013  3:48pm

@ Gener

Yes. The NH Firefighters’ union endorsed Sen Harp, as did the NH Police union and nearly all of the unions who have members who live in New Haven. No unions have endorsed East Rock Elicker, to my knowledge.

posted by: Erika Proud Firefighter Bogan on November 3, 2013  12:52am

What any of these articles have failed to point out is that before moving to Hamden, I was a New Haven resident for all of my life - 41 years in my hometown that I ADORE - EVEN in the face of the challenging & violent turn my city has taken, some of which I have been a first responder to - is nothing to sneeze at. I will ALWAYS defend and LOVE New Haven whether good, bad, ugly or indifferent. I’m sure that I speak for myself and for my female colleagues that it’s about inclusion and gaining the fair and equitable right to work alongside our male counterparts and earn the same living as they do - and we do it well. (Razzie: thank you for your support! It’s not an easy job but we do it with grace and determination.)

p.s. Finger pointing and speculation without knowing the full story is short sighted, narrowminded and ignorant. Since 1995 I have tirelessly served the city that I LOVE. Hiding behind screen names and spouting ugliness is cowardly - please note that my personal bravery, as my REAL name is here - extends beyond the fire ground.