Last week, Fire Department (FDNY) officials reported that 42,161 people took the new computerized FDNY written exam. The number of Blacks taking the test more than doubled, from 3,855 to 8,186, but the percentage of Blacks was virtually the same; Black test-takers made up 18 percent of the candidates in 2007 and 19 percent of this year’s applicants who took the test. There was a strong showing of female candidates, with more women taking this year’s test than the previous three tests combined.
The FDNY says that special events, social media and over $1 million in advertising resulted in the record number of applicants of color. Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano hopes that this exam will produce a pool of 3,500 firefighters of color.
“With the effort we had, we got numbers that reflected that effort,” Cassano said.
The FDNY, the largest fire department in America, is almost 97 percent white. According to FDNY statistics, of the approximately 9,000 current FDNY firefighters, only about 300 are Black.
Actually, it wasn’t the efforts of the FDNY that increased the number of Black candidates for this year’s exam but a court decision by Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, prompted by a lawsuit from the Vulcan Society, the Black firefighters’ association. For nearly 40 years, various courts have issued injunctions against the department to correct a record of non-white hiring.
Last fall, Garaufis finalized his decision and ordered the FDNY to appoint a court monitor to ensure that the department go beyond simply rewriting the exam. The order called for the city to reassess how it recruits, hires and employs Black and Hispanic firefighters.
The city will have goals, without hiring quotas, and will be able to consult with experts to formulate a workable plan under court supervision for the next 10 years. A court-ordered monitor is now overseeing the department’s testing and hiring procedures.
“It was very courageous for the judge and the courts to make that decision,” said Council Member Larry Seabrook. Seabrook is one of a long list of city officials, including Assemblyman Keith Wright and Council Member Charles Barron, who supported the Vulcan lawsuit.
“The Black community has been asking for diversity in the FDNY for more than 40 years. The Fire Department is one of the last bastions in New York City that needs to be dealt with as it relates to diversity,” he added.
“Without the lawsuit, the city doesn’t push harder,” Vulcan President John Coombs stated. “The Vulcan Society lawsuit has consistently put pressure on the FDNY to become better in its efforts in recruiting, employing and retaining people of color in the FDNY.”
The Vulcan Society remains steadfast in its commitment to increase diversity in the FDNY. After a successful series of test prep workshops, the fraternal order of Black firefighters eagerly awaits the test results and a list of candidates.
“We hope that the city will join us in our efforts to reach out and help candidates of color prepare for the next level of the examination, which is the physical,” Coombs noted. “I also urge anyone who has any discrepancies with the examination or needs any assistance to email me.”