Keeping the 'NY' in FDNY With Test Credit

Queens Chronicle - December 18, 2009

by AnnMarie Costella , Chronicle Reporter

City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans), other officials and members from several FDNY organizations are pushing for legislation that they believe will expand diversity in the Fire Department's employment pool.

The legislation would allow any candidate applying to become a New York City firefighter who has a high school diploma or GED from a city high school or testing center to receive an additional eight-point credit on the firefighter exam.

"It gives any young person a goal that they can start preparing for while still in high school," Comrie said. "It's a great motivational tool for young people and a great promotional tool for the city."

The Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which administers the exam opposes the legislation.

"We believe the bill as written would not pass legal muster, but we are willing to work with the council to create a proposal that can be upheld by the courts" said Mark Daly, communications director for DCAS. "The state constitution requires candidates be chosen by fitness and merit. Just graduating from a New York City high school is not enough."

DCAS already offers point credits for a number of other special circumstances. Veterans receive five points and disabled veterans get 10. New York City residents receive an additional five points. Parents of a NYC police officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty receive 10 points as do the siblings of police officers or firefighters who died on Sept. 11. But all are either allowed by the state constitution or state law unlike the new proposed credit.

"We are concerned that if it is challenged in court it would be struck down and someone who thought they received enough points to qualify would realize they had not," Daly explained.

Comrie believes DCAS is being closed-minded because they want to be the only ones who have a say in how the exams are graded. "They are just being typical, bone-headed bureaucrats," Comrie said.

Minorities account for less than 11 percent of city firefighters - making it the least diverse Fire Department of any major U.S. city and less than 40 percent of eligible FDNY applicants are African American, according to Comrie.

This bill is a legitimate, practical and common sense solution to addressing diversity issues in the FDNY," he said during a press conference with other officials at City Hall on Tuesday.

There have been a number of court cases that have shown the FDNY exam indirectly discriminates against minorities. In July, the U.S. District Court ruled that the FDNY had violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and ruled in favor of plaintiffs charging the department with employing discriminatory hiring practices.

City Councilman Tom White Jr. (D-South Ozone Park), who is co-sponsoring the bill, believes it will serve to strengthen the community and improve the economy.

"When a person attends a New York City school, they are exposed to diversity and other cultures and that's a plus that they can bring to the job," he said. "We lose a lot of manpower, observation, stability and safety in our communities when firefighters live outside the city."

Adjoa Gzifa, the chairwoman of Community Board 12 says she is leery of laws that mandate diversity and believes the proposed credit will have legal consequences.

"If you take the test and you pass, you pass," she said. It shouldn't matter where you live or what your ethnic background is. They are just going to end up spending taxpayer money fighting lawsuits."

City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R- Ozone Park) also opposes the bill. "I see it as affirmative action rearing its head in the hiring process of the FDNY," he said. "I don't think it's fair. If they want it to be all inclusive why don't they have it apply to graduates of city Catholic schools and Yeshivas as well."

Ulrich also stated that the Fire Department does plenty of community outreach to try and acquire an ethnically mixed force.