NY Daily News - August 20, 2010by William Sherman and Jonathan Lemire
Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis has ruled that the nearly all-white department's most recent exam was discriminatory against minorities - and blocked the 300 probies who were to be hired from it.
That decision to put a freeze on hiring could potentially be dangerous to the public, FDNY chiefs argued in front of the judge.
"It will affect our response times," said Chief of Operations Robert Sweeney.
FDNY officials argued it would take two years for a new test to be ready - and by then, the department would be 1,200 firefighters below its mandated headcount. It also could be spending nearly $120 million in overtime over the next two years, the officials said.
Garaufis did not make a ruling yesterday, but called the issue a balancing act between the FDNY's need for new blood and the court's obligation to address civil rights concerns. He previously ruled - in response to a civil lawsuit filed by the Justice Department - that two other written exams also illegally discriminated against black and Hispanic firefighter candidates.
The black candidate with the highest score on the last exam is frustrated by the latest delay.
"I felt the exam wasn't biased," Eric Shepard Jr. said. "I felt like this was our time to change the face of the FDNY."
Shepard, 32, would be too old to take the FDNY test if a new exam is given. Applicants must take the exam before they turn 30. He was 29 when he took it in 2007.
"My uncle died in a fire but all the firefighters ran into the burning home like it was their brother in there," said Shepard, who wrote a letter to Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano explaining his plight. "I wanted to be a firefighter from that day - and now I may be denied my dream."