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Historic ruling ensures diversity for firefighter recruits

CRAIG D. FRAZIER Special to the AmNews | 5/15/2013, 3:46 p.m.
Historic ruling ensures diversity for firefighter recruits

On Friday, approximately 300 Black and Latino firefighter candidates who didn't score high enough to join the FDNY in 1999 and 2002 will get a second chance to take their entrance exams. The opportunity is part of a controversial ruling by Brooklyn Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who found the FDNY guilty of discrimination after the Vulcan Society, the fraternal order of Black firefighters, successfully challenged the methodology of the entrance exams. Garaufis ordered the city to pay $187 million in damages.

In October 2011, the judge ordered a court-appointed monitor to examine the recruitment, testing and hiring of entry-level firefighters for a period of at least 10 years after finding that the city had done too little to reverse a record of discrimination. He also found that 186 Blacks and 107 Latinos who took the '99 and '02 tests might have made the grade had the process been different. He required the city to contact those applicants and give them the opportunity to retake the exam regardless of age.

Traditionally, the FDNY will not allow anyone over the age of 29 to take the exam, except members of the military. Many of New York's Bravest, outraged by the decision, feel that this would allow candidates to jump ahead of firefighters already on the job.

Garaufis heard comments on the fairness of his most recent rulings in the historic case. Approximately 150 white firefighters rallied in front of the courthouse against the court-ordered restructuring of the FDNY entrance exam. Only 36 of the 180 scheduled speakers showed up.

"Whenever there is change like this, especially when it is racially motivated, you can expect some resistance," said Capt. Paul Washington, former president of the Vulcan Society, who raised the original Equal Employment Opportunity complaint about the department's racial discrimination.

Washington told the AmNews that the first class of firefighters in four years is scheduled to be sworn in on Monday, Jan. 14. It will be the most culturally diverse class in FDNY history.

"This is a victory for us [the Vulcan Society] and our allies," declared Washington. "This is a new era for the FDNY."