Nia Terrelonge of the Bronx uses a mallet to slam a 70-pound punching bag as if it were the wall of a burning structure.
"Put your hips and legs into it," commands firefighter Regina Wilson of Engine 219, who helps train female firefighter wannabes. "Come on. Yeah that's a good one. That's going through the wall."
Terrelonge is one of dozens of women training for the FDNY academy, vying to swell the male-dominated ranks of the FDNY. The United Women Firefighters, a nonprofit organization not affiliated with the FDNY, provides support and training to the women who have passed their exams and are waiting to enter the academy.
Terrelonge, wearing a 50-pound vest, keeps pounding the bag with her mallet. She swings her hips and thighs toward the bag, her teeth clenched as she uses all her strength to pound the bag with the mallet.
"How do you feel?" Wilson asks. "Fantastic!" responds Terrelonge, who jumps into the next station where she has to drag Ivan, a 160-pound dummy across the 45-foot-long room several times before jumping onto the next station without stopping.
As part of their training, the women drag a 70-pound punching bag across a gym floor with their training partner on top. They march up and down 343 times on platform steps holding 10-pound hand weights on each shoulder. The trainees then haul fire hoses attached to the 70-pound bag before taking a 90-second water break. After their break they work on handgrip exercises by holding 20-pound weights with insulated gloves and two towels in each hand.
"These women can't do it without this training," Wilson said. "The trainers at the academy don't play around. They will be looking at them to be the first to quit."
Several dozen women are taking advantage of the voluntary program. They train for two hours a day three times a week at the New York Sports Club on Wall Street. The club donates space and pays a Marine veteran to train them. The club also gives the women a 1-year membership to train on their off days.
There are 41 FDNY female firefighters -- the most the department has ever employed but not even a drop in the bucket in a department of 7,596 male firefighters and officers.
"I want them to enter the academy strong and psychologically prepared for the stress they will face," trainer and Marine veteran Thompson Plyler said. "This is paramilitary training. It becomes a religion to make sure these girls get the optimal training so they can breeze through the academy."
Ryan Coloetti of Middle Village is staying in the course despite snags that have delayed her entry into the academy.
She took her first test in 2007 scoring 99.8. But a lawsuit claiming the exams were unfair to minorities was thrown out forcing her to take the test again. She scored a 99 and now waits for her number "4166" to be called for the next class.
"I quit my job twice," said Coloetti, a former real estate office worker who now works for a catering company. "This has really impacted by life in a big way but I am still here."
Coloetti said she remains committed to joining the FDNY despite all the hurdles in her way.
"You have to be dedicated and push all those thoughts out of your head and just power through," she said.
FDNY firefighter Jackie Martinez of Floral Park, a volunteer trainer, has several years on the job. She said she supports the hopeful FDNY probies by sharing her academy experience.
"It's brother and sisterhood all the way," Martinez said. "I'm in a great house and I love my job. "