Bill Would Give Bonus for HS Graduates Applying to the FDNY

NY Daily News - December 15, 2009

by Jonathan Lemire

A bill to give a bonus to city high school graduates applying to the FDNY - and potentially increase diversity within the nearly all-white Fire Department - will come before the City Council.

The measure, announced Monday by a team of Council members and the FDNY's Vulcan Society, would give an eight-point bonus to applicants who graduated from schools within the five boroughs.

"We want firefighters to be representative of our neighborhoods and speak the languages of our neighborhoods," said Leroy Comrie (D-Queens). "That is not currently the case."

Diversity has long been a hot-button issue for the FDNY, as approximately 91% of its 11,600 uniformed members are white and nearly 99% are male.

The Vulcans, a fraternal organization of black firefighters, believe the high school credit - which would be added to a candidate's combined score on the written and physical exams - will help level the playing field. Currently, candidates who can prove city residency get a five-point bonus, which the Vulcans feel is ineffective.

"It doesn't take much for a candidate to call his aunt and get an electric bill in his name at her address," said Vulcan Society President John Coombs. "That's a sham."

About 4,500 firefighters currently live in the city, FDNY sources said.

Twelve Council members are co-sponsoring the bill, which will come up for a vote next month.

This summer, a federal judge ruled the FDNY's 1999 and 2002 exams excluded at least 1,000 blacks and Latinos from jobs. The number of minority applicants who passed the most recent exam, in 2007, jumped to 38% - up from 21% in 2002.

"We'd be open to listening to anything that would improve upon our success," said FDNY spokesman Jim Long.