Newsday - March 09, 2017by Matthew Chayes
New York City’s fire commissioner acknowledged Tuesday that “the department had failed” to diversify its ranks, where 4 out of 5 firefighters are white and fewer than 60 of the nearly 11,000-member force are female.
“We still have a way to go,” said Commissioner Daniel Nigro, appointed in 2014 by Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat.
Speaking at a breakfast sponsored by Crain’s New York Business, Nigro said “there are many thousands” of black, Latino and other minority New Yorkers who would make good firefighters, but “you just need to let them know that they’re wanted by the department and what a good career the department is.”
Nigro said the FDNY is “always looking for new ideas. We’re always looking for people to be creative and by bringing diversity to the department, we believe we’ll be a better department.”
In 2014, de Blasio settled a long-running lawsuit that alleged the FDNY’s entrance exams discriminated against minority applicants. The city agreed to changes, including a requirement ensuring that the ratio of minority test-takers exceeds the city’s job-eligible racial makeup.
The settlement reversed the stance of de Blasio’s predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, who fought the suit’s demands as dangerous to public safety.
According to the FDNY, about 10,900 uniformed firefighters are male. Whites comprise 8,907; blacks, 713; Hispanics, 1,173; Asians and Pacific Islanders, 147; Native Americans, 12; and undisclosed ethnicity, 31.
Of women firefighters, Nigro said, “We cherish every woman that comes into the fire department . . . believe me, they will be nourished, they will be nurtured and they can do the job.”
Nigro bristled at the notion, voiced by critics of the city’s diversification plan, that the way it’s being done lowers standards, whether on the physical or the written exam. “We would never, we would not lower standards,” he said. “I don’t like hearing that.”