Centennial Celebration
Man Fulfills Dream of Becoming FDNY Probie after 18-Year Bid

NY Post - April 17, 2017

by Susan Edelman and Dean Balsamini

Probationary firefighter Hazim Tawfiq has joined the FDNY at age 44 after a long battle over his rap sheet.

Tawfiq failed an FDNY entry exam in 1999, then joined a federal lawsuit that successfully accused the FDNY of racial discrimination. He won a cash settlement and a second chance to be hired, but the city rejected him because of his criminal record. He sued again.

Now Tawfiq — who turns 45 in September — has finally settled with the city and achieved his dream.

He is set to graduate Tuesday from the FDNY’s Fire Academy as a rookie.

“He’s starting at an age when some people are retiring from the department,” a stunned insider said. “It’s a grueling job — a job for the young.”

Heart attacks are the No. 1 one cause of death among firefighters in the line of duty. Experts attribute it to an increased heart rate and blood pressure under stress, and the strain of bearing 40 to 50 pounds of gear.

Normally, no one age 29 or older can apply to take the FDNY entry exam.

But a 2007 discrimination suit filed against the city by the Vulcans, a fraternal group of black firefighters, and the US Justice Department resulted in exceptions for minority applicants passed over after taking the exam in 1999 and 2000.

The city settled that case for $98 million in compensation to black and Hispanic applicants. In 2013, the FDNY started admitting those “priority hires,” many in their 30s and early 40s. However, the city disqualified Tawfiq because of four arrests ranging from gun possession to beating subway fares — between the ages of 19 and 32. The FDNY believed he lacked “good character” and “moral integrity.”

In 1992, as a 19-year-old student at SUNY Plattsburgh, he questioned a friend’s arrest after a fight broke out and he too ended up in cuffs. He pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a $205 fine.

In 1996, at age 23, Tawfiq was arrested in upstate Ithaca on charges including 3rd degree criminal possession of a weapon — a violent felony — resisting arrest, and marijuana possession. Tawfiq claimed he went to protect a cousin who was threatened by drug dealers, and was caught with a friend who brought guns.

He pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of gun possession, and was sentenced to three years’ probation.

He was busted again at age 24 for turnstile jumping.

And in 2005, at age 32, he was charged with “aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle” after his license was suspended for failing to pay tickets for speeding and other moving violations. He claimed financial hardship.

He appealed his rejection in 2013, describing a tragedy-filled youth. His mother, a nurse at Harlem Hospital, was killed on the street when he was 2, his father died when he was 16, and one of his four brothers, Hamza, was murdered four years later.

“My life spiraled down with grief,” he wrote, but added: “I realized that your past heartache or misfortune is not an acceptable (excuse) for criminal behavior and poor decisions.”

Tawfiq said he wanted to emulate his older brother, Hisham Tawfiq, who also got in trouble, but joined the Marines. After serving in Desert Storm, Hisham joined the FDNY — applying after Hazim gave him a recruitment postcard.

Hisham, also a model for the FDNY’s beefcake calendar, retired after 20 years in 2015 to pursue acting. He’s a regular on NBC’s “The Blacklist.”

Hazim, who married and has a young child, started a silkscreen business, selling his “I love Harlem” attire on 125th Street.

He begged to be judged on his last 16 years. “I have made great contributions to my community, I am a good citizen.”

Reached outside his Harlem apartment last week, Hazim would not speak to a reporter. A Legal Aid lawyer who represents him declined to comment.

Last year, Tawfiq received nearly $183,000, including his $39,370 firefighter salary. The rest is “back pay” he won in the federal settlement for time the court ruled he should have been ​firefighting. He will also start with up to 10 years in seniority.

The FDNY has not yet announced ​assignments for the graduating class.