For more than 50 years, members of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal order of Black firefighters, have gone above and beyond the call to volunteer in their spare time to train new hires in their probationary period before they enter the FDNY Academy. The classes help them gain insight into the things they will be exposed to and need to learn while in the academy.
Not only do they facilitate classroom lectures on policy and procedure, but they demonstrate the proper way to handle equipment and even run physical fitness activities that include running through Prospect Park. For these dedicated members of New City’s Bravest, many whom are veterans, it is an opportunity to honor a Vulcan tradition passed down to them when they first came onto the job.
“One thing that they get out of our class is not just knowing the work, but the interaction of knowing each other before they go in,” Lt. Michael Marshall, a 31-year FDNY veteran and member of the Vulcan Society, told the AmNews. Stationed in Canarsie, he is one of the many Vulcan members who come out to share their experience in Brooklyn on Saturdays. “We are here to train the people who are going into the next class, which consists of priority hires from the lawsuit. There are also some EMS promotions, as well as those from the open competitive exam.”
What is extraordinary about this particular group of firefighter candidates is that they will be making history. Some have been hired because the Vulcan Society successfully challenged the methodology of the FDNY entrance exams in court and won. Brooklyn Judge Nicholas Garaufis found the FDNY guilty of discrimination only to be nullified later when the City appealed.
As part of his ruling, still in effect, 186 Blacks and 107 Latinos who didn’t score high enough to join the FDNY in 1999 and 2002 will have the opportunity to join a institution with generous pension, sick pay and other benefits.
For others, it was a second chance at a dream deferred. “I decided that I wanted to be a firefighter right after 9/11. I saw the ultimate sacrifice that the FDNY made. It felt like it was the right team to be involved with. I felt like it is something really positive. You are helping people you don’t even know,” said a candidate who wished to remain anonymous. He took the test in 2002, passed, but was never hired. Six months ago, he received a notice in the mail asking him if he was still interested in becoming a firefighter.
“I have always wanted to help people,” he continued. “This was the only job that I have a passion for. Right now I feel blessed that I am being given the opportunity to become a firefighter. I thank God and the Vulcan Society for supporting me throughout this whole process. When you get a second chance, you have to go for it.”
According to court records, in 1999 and 2002, Blacks composed 10 percent and 8 percent of test takers, but only 6 percent made the grade for hiring. After an outreach campaign, Black applicants rose to 18 percent in 2007, and comprised 13 percent of the hiring pool. In 2012, with an even greater push, 19 percent of test takers and 20 percent of the hiring list were Black.
Another 2002 test taker and priority hire, who wanted to be known as Casanova Brown, spoke with the AmNews. “At first I didn’t know why I was called, but now that I was called, I am not holding any grudges,” he said. “I am here to become acclimated, to get ready to join this class and to network.”
Former Vulcan Society President Capt. Paul Washington told the AmNews that last week’s class that was sworn in was 27 percent Black, 37 percent Hispanic, 33.5 white, 2 percent Asian, 2 percent female and 1 percent Native American. “This class had the highest percentage of Blacks ever—86 total,” said Washington. “It usually takes 10 years to get about 86 Blacks into FDNY.”
The 318 probationary hires—123 are priority hires—are headed for 18 weeks of training at the FDNY’s Fire Academy on Randall’s Island.