Photo: FDNY Truck
After a federal lawsuit, a court order, and new application process, the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) could see an increase in minority firefighters soon.
New York City’s population is more than half minority, but only 9 percent of the firefighters are black or Hispanic.
Twelve years ago, firefighter Paul Washington filed a lawsuit claiming that the firefighter exam, the weightiest portion in determining an applicants ability to do the job, was filled with a number of “SAT-like questions” that failed to properly test an applicants firefighting skills.
“This test isn’t proving who’s the best for the job — this test is proving who got a good education,” said Washington. “There’s an education gap in this country, and everybody knows it. So to pretend, after 12 years of bad schooling, there’s a level playing field and telling them to sit down and compete — it’s disingenuous.”
In 2009, after the U.S. Department of Justice took up the case and filed a federal lawsuit, a judge ruled in favor of the Vulcan Society (of which Washington was the president), and in a separate decision, the judge ruled that the exam was designed to intentionally discriminate and called it a “stain” on the department.
Though the FDNY is appealing that ruling, it has taken steps to try to include more minority candidates, but says the efforts are not in response to the lawsuit. So far, 4,445 recruiting events have been held.
A new test could take as long as a year to redo, but the number of minorities interested in taking it has increased. The test was last offered in 2007 (it’s only offered every four years) and since then, more than 40 percent of the applicants have been minorities.
Washington says he wants the department’s diversity to reflect the city’s, much like it does in Chicago where the fire department of 4,300 members is 20 percent black and 8 percent Hispanic, which reflects the city’s overall demographic.
“You get such respect from the community; it’s great,” he said. “It creates a whole ripple effect for the future. Shouldn’t everyone have the chance for that?”