Black Firefighters Won’t Believe the Change Until They See the Change

Black Firefighters Won’t Believe the Change Until They See the Change

An increased number of the FDNY applicant pool is African-American and diversity supporters are hoping the FDNY hires more minorities.

Published September 19, 2011

For years the New York City Fire Department has been criticized for excluding African-Americans when hiring, but their recent efforts to achieve more of a diverse workforce will be put to test in January when their recently developed hiring test will be administered.


The new test is a result of minority groups complaining of hiring discrimination for years. In 2007 an organization of Black firefighters, the Vulcan Society, along with the Department of Justice complained that the FDNY used racially biased testing in its hiring, and in 2009 and 2010 a judge found the complaints surrounding Black and Hispanic applicants to be true. In August, when considering how to manage the situation, a judge considered a number of suggestions including appointing an overseer to supervise the department’s hiring practices.


Meanwhile, the FDNY has increased their minority recruiting efforts after receiving pressure from the Justice Department and the Vulcan Society. When only three percent of the FDNY workforce is Black, and more than three million African-Americans reside in New York city, FDNY recruiting and hiring, however, needs to take place.


Yet, in order to find candidates, the FDNY should not have to search too far. Numbers show that there are many African-Americans interested in New York firefighter positions. As of Tuesday, Sept. 13, 9,227 or 21.4 percent of the applicant pool was African-American; a number up from 5,628 in 2007, and 9,990, or 22.9 percent was Hispanic.


“We’re not going to say it has been successful or a failure until those numbers translate into employment for Black applicants, women and other underrepresented populations," John Coombs, a Brooklyn firefighter and president of the Vulcan Society told the Huffington Post. "Until those statistics translate into employment, the number means nothing."


Many Black firefighters in the force have complained of being a victim of racism in an industry that is 91 percent white, and where hiring practices are based on family legacy. Some Black firefighters have found oil in their boots, heard racial jokes and epithets and, most recently, a noose was found outside a fireman’s locker in Brooklyn. 


Through it all, Black current and hopeful Black firefighters are hoping for a fair exam that gives a fair chance of bringing a good candidate, no matter his or her color, to the job.



To contact or share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.


(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Written by Danielle Wright


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