Flickr Creative Commons // Paul Lowry
On March 7th, The Village Voice ran a story entitled “Will the FDNY Remain Over 90 Percent White?” – a shocking title for many reasons. First, the pure statistic that nine out of 10 New York firefighters are white. Second, that something may actually be done about it.
According the the 2010 U.S. Census, approximately 34 percent of the New York City population is African American or Hispanic — an estimate, at best. So if one tenth of firefighters are from these two “minority” groups, it leads us to one overarching question — if the brave men and women fighting city fires aren’t as diverse as the population, what does it say about the selection process?
FDNY exams from 1999-2007 were brought to federal court under questions of discrimination after the last one was given five years ago. In 2009, U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis found that the “examinations unfairly excluded hundreds of qualified people of color from the opportunity to serve as New York City firefighters.” The new test (to be taken via computer for the first time this month) was developed by an independent test maker in consultation with the City of New York, unlike the previous discriminatory one made by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services. Finally, a step towards equality in the FDNY.
One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit? The Vulcan Society, an organization of African-American firefighters that has been working to increase black representation and equality in the FDNY since 1940. Three years ago, the Vulcans had a small victory with this federal case. Three weeks ago, the Vulcans proved once again why their message is important.
The Voice article details the events of one early March evening where hundreds of determined hopefuls gathered in Harlem for a Vulcan-run review session of the new FDNY exam. Most of the attendees were black. According to the story, “The odds of getting hired from this test are less than one in a hundred, even for the most dedicated candidate,” a fact that will hopefully not discourage black (and Hispanic) hopefuls.
Currently, 300 of 9,000 NYC firefighters are African-American. Out of those 300, only six hold the rank of captain. Six? Six. NYC residents might like to see more of our neighbors among the ranks of “New York’s Bravest.” This is 2012. It’s about time.