For The Record

Chief Leader - December 21, 2010

Mayor Bloomberg's plan to close 20 fire companies at night wasn't the only sore subject at a Dec. 13 City Council Finance Committee Hearing. Many Council members blamed the FDNY's budget problems on a court-ordered hiring freeze.

In August, Brooklyn Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis found that the 2007 FDNY exam, known as Exam 6019, had a "disparate impact" on minority candidates. The city initially agreed to an interim hiring method until a new exam was created, but later decided the judge's five hiring options- which included priority hiring for black and Hispanic candidates-were nothing more than racial quotas. The judge then blocked the FDNY from hiring the 300 candidates who passed the exam. Now, the department is spending an estimated $2 million a month in overtime to cover the staff shortage.

Councilman Daniel Halloran (R-Queens), said that the firehouse closings were a direct result of overtime costs, which were up $27 million from last year.

Others cautioned that the city might wait up to a year for a final decision in the case. "I strongly recommend hiring under one of the judge's orders," said Councilwoman Helen Foster (D-Bronx).

The lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Justice Department and the Vulcan Society, a fraternal order of black Firefighters, charges that the FDNY discriminated against black and Hispanic applicants. The judge previously ruled that FDNY exams from 1999 and 2002 were also discriminatory.

FDNY officials and its unions universally dismiss the accusations of discrimination.

"I've never seen any indications that the Fire Department has done anything to restrict anyone from joining," said Uniformed Firefighters Association President Steve Cassidy, who said the problem is that the FDNY has minimized the physical part of the job. "We've always attracted and recruited athletic people," he said. "The reason is because it's a physical job... Passing a physical exam, it's expensive and they don't want to admit that. I think you need a competitive physical exam and a competitive written exam."

According to Uniformed Fire Officers President Alexander Hagan, athleticism and intelligence are equally important to the job. "Firefighting is a tremendously technical effort, and there are thousands upon thousands of pages of technical documents you have to master," he said.