According to the official website of the City of New York, organized firefighting in the city began in 1648. In 1865 - right after the civil war - the department became a paid, professional service. It wasn't until 1982, that the first women entered FDNY.
More history was made on June 25, 2003 when Rochelle Jones became the first woman to be promoted to the rank of Chief. Previously, she also held the distinction of being the first female captain.
Like all the other women who entered the department in the late 1970s, Rocky had to endure sexism, humiliation, intimidation and more. But just like the other women who supported each other through the challenges, she endured. I still laugh when I think of the story she shared about a male firefighter who called her "Babe." Her quick and perfect reply was, "That's Lieutenant Babe to you!" She made her point without losing her cool or diminishing her authority. The guys laughed with her and their respect for her continued to grow.
During the years I photographed in FDNY fire houses, Rocky's portrait was in my portfolio. It was heartwarming to hear stories from the guys about what a good firefighter she is. I heard comments like, "She's always the first one into a fire and the last one out," or "I worked with her - she's great! I'd work with her again."
In the early days of The Archive, I delivered a few photographs to Engine 4, Ladder 15 on South Street in lower Manhattan. The fire house lost 14 of its members on 9/11. Rocky, a captain on the engine, served as the primary coordinator of memorials and tributes for the families of those men.
She saw my photos and grabbed them from a guy to look at. She made jokes about how ugly he is and how he probably couldn't take a good picture if he tried. But when she saw the photo I'd taken of him she was surprised. She told him that I must be a good photographer if I could make him look handsome.
Not long after, Rocky called me and asked me to return to her station to take a full company photo. She was coordinating a private screening for her station of the 9/11 documentary filmed by Jules and Gedeon Naudet, two brothers from France. The documentary would eventually be seen on CBS but first a few firefighters would get to see it together in their fire houses. All members of the engine and truck companies would be present - a good time to plan a photo.
Rocky became my friend and guide through FDNY. I called her my moral compass. It was extremely important to me that all my actions and deeds be seen has honorable and respectful of the integrity and culture of the fire service. If I had doubts about how to respond to a request or what to do in a tough situation, Rocky had the answer. When the New York Times wanted to do a story about me, Rocky called the commissioner's office and explained why she thought they should give approval. Several more interviews followed, including an interview on The Today Show. I asked Rocky to do the interview with me.
Many have written about her life in the fire department. I've been honored to be able to provide some of the photographs of her life in the service, including those I've taken of Rocky as a captain, as a battalion chief, and with her late husband Jon, a highly respected firefighter.
We have pictures of Chief Jones with the other fire fighters in her family including her father, her stepson, brother-in-law and her nephew. All are or have served in the FDNY.
Rocky asked me to attend her promotion ceremony and take a few photos. The department sent out press releases to let the media know about the historic moment. I walked into the auditorium wearing fully loaded, professional camera equipment around my neck. I was immediately greeted by an earnest young woman who escorted me to a front row seat that had been reserved for the press. Several friends who were also being promoted during the ceremony rushed over and asked me to take their photo, too.
As the moment approached, I got up from my chair and walked up to the front edge of the stage. A perfect place to get the right photo. But as Rocky began to step across the stage to shake the commissioner's hand, members of the press leaped forward and tried to knock me out of the way. They play rough. But I fought back and held my place.
After the ceremony, Rocky introduced me to Commissioner Nick Scopetta as her "personal photographer." We laughed at that one later on.
Rocky's promotion was a proud and memorable moment for all the women of FDNY. Some of them carried signs and waved them energetically. Their cheers shook the auditorium when Rocky stood center stage for her moment in history. But the impact reached far beyond New York City.
A few years later, I met and photographed a young, female firefighter in California who, according to her captain, is a bright and rising star in Cal Fire. She was looking over my portfolio and stopped at the photo of Rocky. After studying it for a moment, she held up the book to show it to the guys at the station. "That's going to be me one day," she said. "A battalion chief!"
No doubt she will. The path will be easier thanks to Rocky and so many other brave and determined women across the country who helped break down some of the barriers.
Such an inspiring woman! Thank you for sharing her story -- and photos, of course.
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