FDNY graduates diverse class of 286 men and women

(L-R) graduates Charlotte Schannon, Giselle King, Vanessa Schoening (L-R) graduates Charlotte Schannon, Giselle King, Vanessa Schoening and Antoinette Proctor with members of probationary firefighter class 1 of 2014 graduates at the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn on June 3, 2014. Photo Credit: Jeremy Bales

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The FDNY's graduation class of 2014 was called "a tremendous infusion of talent," and its 286 men and women were lauded for their military experience and for being representative of the city's rich racial and ethnic diversity at Tuesday's ceremony.

This new class "raised the bar and it's this diversity that makes this department stronger than ever," said outgoing Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano, who received a standing ovation.

"We have one hundred veterans in this class who served our country and it will only make for a stronger FDNY," Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

This is "the best probie class in years," Chief Edward Kilduff said.

For the first time in 10 years, four women graduated from the FDNY's 18-week training program. This inches up the number of women firefighters and fire officers to 41 in a department with 10,400 male firefighters and fire officers.

Woodside, Queens, probie Vanessa Schoening, 27, who worked as an emergency medical service technician at 19, said after the graduation: "I served in the Air Force reserve and without that training I would have not made it here today.

"This was not an easy accomplishment, but it is a great accomplishment. The training was rigorous, both physically and mentally, but it's possible for other women," she said.

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"I am very happy and proud of my daughter. She has become what I couldn't become," her mother, Virginia Schoening, said. "I thank God and this country for this opportunity given to my daughter," said Schoening, who immigrated from Ecuador.

"I think this would be hard for anyone," said Antoinette Proctor, 33, of Brooklyn, who served in the Marines. "The training was rigorous."

When the training was difficult, Proctor thought back to her days in the Marines. "It taught me to be more resilient and to dig in," she said, as her 7-year-old daughter embraced her.

Probie Giselle King of Brooklyn said: "I wanted to do something that was bigger than myself. I really wanted to do this." And in those "moments of darkness when I asked that question as to whether I wanted to do this or not, my best came up and I pushed forward."

Retired FDNY Capt. Brenda Berkman, among the first women to graduate from the academy in 1982 after winning a gender discrimination lawsuit, said: "It's shameful that we have to wait so long. We have to remove these barriers; this culture that is just not inclusive to women and good training." Berkman said the fire department offers "people economic mobility and why shouldn't women be afforded that same opportunity. They have families, too."

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Thirty-one-year veteran firefighter Kevin Shannon, whose 24-year-old daughter Charlotte also graduated, said he didn't want any of his three daughters to join the FDNY.

"It's a dangerous job. But then she [Charlotte] got 100 on the exam. She'll be fine. It is the greatest job in the world and now she'll know that feeling too," her proud father said.

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