FDNY: Weâ€™re More Diverse
But Coombs says it is premature to suggest that the investment paid a dividend in diversifying the FDNY, since the numbers only reflect minorities who have passed the exam.
The Fire Department of New York (FDNY) says it’s doing better in its drive to recruit more African Americans and Latinos.
Minority percentages of the top scoring test-takers for this year’s FDNY written examination have more than doubled, officials reported last week.
Of this year’s 4,400 test-takers who scored the highest on the January exam and are most likely to be hired, 33 percent are minorities, an increase from the 2002 exam where only 14 percent of the candidates who recorded the highest scores were minorities.
But despite what this year’s FDNY exam results indicate, some minority firefighters are not yet convinced that the FDNY is making significant progress in diversifying New York City’s Fire Department.
John Coombs, president of the Vulcan Society, the fraternal organization of Black firefighters of the FDNY, says progress has to be judged based on the number of minorities assigned to firehouses as firefighters, not those who pass the exam.
“Don’t jump for joy just because a lot of people pass an exam,” Coombs says in a phone interview with The Black Star. “The real true test is how many of them (minorities) actually get to the academy. That’s the test.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta and Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) Commissioner Martha Hirst reported last Tuesday that of the 21, 183 applicants who passed January’s written exam, 38 percent are minorities – a significant improvement from the 21 percent who passed the FDNY’s last exam in 2002.
Further reports show that of the applicants who passed January’s exam, 19 percent are Hispanic, 17 percent are Black, and 2 percent are Asian, an increase from 2002’s exam where 12 percent Hispanics and 7 percent Blacks passed, with Asian test-takers remaining the same at 2 percent. January’s exam, which recorded a total of 29, 638 candidates, surpassed totals of the previous two exams in 2002 and 1999, which recorded 23,976 and 22,529, respectively.
“Becoming a New York City firefighter is a rewarding career opportunity that is open to anyone who wants it, and these results prove that a diverse group of New Yorkers have a strong desire to protect their neighbors and their City,” Fire Commissioner Scoppetta said. “By greatly expanding our recruitment efforts and reaching out to communities previously unaware about the benefits of joining New York’s Bravest, we are confident that the future classes at the Fire Academy will certainly be the best, the brightest and the most diverse.”
Mayor Bloomberg attributes the success of the applicants to the expansion and efforts of the FDNY’s Recruitment and Diversity Unit, which has received $3.2 million in new annual funding from the City. In 2006, the Arnell Group launched an ad campaign that enabled FDNY recruiters to attend more than 2,600 community-based events, and employed 350 firefighters and EMS members of diverse backgrounds to help recruit candidates across the City.
“The Fire Department’s unprecedented investment in recruiting has paid big dividends, which will now allow us to take a major step toward making sure our uniformed workforce reflects the people they serve each and every day,” Bloomberg said.
But Coombs says it is premature to suggest that the investment paid a dividend in diversifying the FDNY, since the numbers only reflect minorities who have passed the exam. “Until those people become firefighters, do not believe the hype.” He adds, “Until 100 percent, or close to it, of those 33 percent minorities (who are most likely to be hired) are assigned to firehouses operating as firefighters, then we cannot talk about success.
Coombs has been a member of the Vulcan Society for the past nine years, and has been president since January 2007. Wesley Williams, the third black male to join the New York Fire Department, formed the Vulcan Society in 1940 as an outlet for Black firefighters in the New York City fire department who faced racial discrimination by their white colleagues, the society’s Web site indicates. Coombs says the society also served to increase diversity in the fire department. Today, the role is the same.
“We look to increase the diversification of the fire department in that we reach out to community-based organizations, churches, mosques, after-school programs, [and] the career development programs,” Coombs says.
A spokesperson for the FDNY says the fire department has devoted a tremendous amount of resources to recruit the most qualified candidates of all backgrounds into joining the FDNY. “The campaign that was launched last year was an unprecedented effort, with more resources than ever before. Our Recruitment and Diversity Unit is now a full time unit that operates year round.”
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