Risking their lives on a daily basis for others, Firefighters are trained to combat fires. It is this harrowing fact which presents us, the civilians, with an outlook that these men and women are the very definition of bravery. It is due to this bravery that many are inspired to take up the helmet and axe and join the FDNY. However, while the FDNY represents both bravery and honor they fail to represent one true aspect of the city. The FDNY fails to show that the people, the diverse community they protect, can also join this brave society.
The main issue regarding why there is a lack of representation of minorities within the FDNY has been directed towards the FDNY entrance exam. Back on August 1st of this year, a bench trial opened–the first of three scheduled hearings this month–in a federal court in Brooklyn to correct the FDNY’s problem regarding its recruitment and applicant-screening process. The hearings are expected to enable a fairer chance at hiring for Blacks, Hispanics, and other racial minorities within New York City.
Overseeing the case is U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis who has encountered an issue regarding race within the FDNY in the past. In a prior hearing, Judge Garaufis issued a series of rulings which determined that between 1999 and 2007 the department administered written examinations that had “discriminatory effects” on minority applicants. In 2005, a lawsuit was filed against the FDNY challenging their exams. After the lawsuit was filed, the City created Exam 6019 which consisted of multiple choices comprised of three components: a cognitive, a timed, and a personal characteristic. The exam was administered to 22,000 applicants but was eventually blocked since the issue had not been addressed.
Commenting on the entrance exams back in 2010, Judge Garaufis wrote that, “The City has not shown that the current examination identifies candidates who will be successful firefighters. What the examination does do is screen and rank applicants in a manner that disproportionately excludes Black and Hispanic Applicants. As a result, hundreds of minority applicants are being denied the opportunity to serve as New York Firefighters, for no legitimate or justifiable reason.”
His statement was made in a ruling that was a response to a 2007 lawsuit filed against the City by the U.S. Department of Justice. Along with the plaintiffs and leading the lawsuit was the Vulcan Society, an organization within the FDNY of a fraternal society made of Black Firefighters, who asked Garaufis to impose recruitment reforms upon the FDNY so that their recruitment procedures be closely monitored.
During this period, New York City Fire Captain Paul Washington and former-president of the Vulcan Society (A fraternal organization of Black Firefighters) is vocal about the problem he sees within the FDNY. In a comment to a CBS reporter, Washington stated that, “This fire department has been all white, lily white, for almost 150 years now,” he goes on to add that, “it has to end.” In relation to the test being unfair to minorities, Captain Washington stated that “Blacks don’t fare as well as white on this test, probably due to the disparity of education.”
According to statistics collected around the time this statement was taking, eight years prior it was recorded that 92% of Firefighters were White and only 2.8% Black within a city with a population of 24% Black. Further statistics gathered shows that Hispanics are estimated to make 27% of New York City’s population, yet only 6.7% of the FDNY’s Firefighter ranks as of 2007.
While there is no doubting that minorities within New York City are being cheated out of providing their service for the FDNY, there appears to be no “voice” per se given to the Hispanic New Yorkers who have also suffered from the discriminatory exams. In articles discussing the legal actions to change the discriminatory system, there is no voice present for the Hispanic community. However, just like the Vulcan Society represents the Black New York Firefighters and future recruits, Hispanic Firefighters do have representation. They are represented by the FDNY Hispanic Society.
Formed back in 1962, the FDNY Hispanic Society was established with the sole purpose of “uniting and improving the quality of life of its members, as well as to contribute to the civic and cultural endeavors of Hispanic community at large,” and although they are a fixture within the Hispanic community of New York City by taking part in parades and so on, there have been no public acknowledgments to the claims about the FDNY entrance being discriminatory towards minorities.
The FDNY Hispanic Society promotes membership into their society, on their website they ask that, “if you are an employee of the NYC Fire Department, uniformed or civilian, Fire or EMS, and have not yet joined the FDNY Hispanic Society…we urge you to come, visit, attend one of our events or meetings and see for yourself what we are all about.” This isn’t to discredit the hard-work the FDNY Hispanic Society has done for Hispanic members, but simply curiosity as to why nothing has been addressed regarding the issue. There has been no comment within the Society and no public figure regarding these findings since being presented as far back as the late 90s.
In cities like Los Angeles, Boston, Miami, and Philadelphia they hold greater numbers regarding diversity amongst their Fire Departments after filings of lawsuits to change the entrance exams and possible work racism occurring within the firehouses. Meanwhile, New York City still fails in comparison to the number of minorities who work within the FDNY. While those in power may not intentionally set out to negate the inclusion of one particular group, it takes a group of voices to set forward some form of change. There appears to be no voice trying to correct the disqualification of Hispanic New Yorkers who are brave and resilient enough to become future FDNY Firefighters.