A record-breaking number of minorities and women have taken the FDNY entrance exam this year, an increase the agency attributes to increased outreach efforts and dedication to diversity.
Some 42,161 people took the test including 19,260 minorities — a 130 percent increase from the last test, given in 2007. More women also took this year’s exam — 1,952, compared to 1,788 for the last three tests combined, according to the FDNY.
“The extraordinary effort we made to reach people of color and women and interest them in the firefighter exam has been an unprecedented success,” Fire Commissioner Sal Cassano said in a prepared statement. “We’ve used every tool at our disposal, from recruitment events and tutorial sessions to phone banks and social media, to communicate to people from all backgrounds about the great benefits and invaluable rewards this job offers.”
The test was administered from March 15 to April 20 at 15 locations in the tri-state area.A make-up exam for those who missed their scheduled test was administered on April 26.
Minorities made up 46 percent of all candidates. Some 8,186 blacks, including 843 women, took the test compared to 3,855 in 2007; 9,582 Hispanics, compared to 4,062 for the same year; and 1,314 Asians, compared to 464, according to the FDNY.
Cassano called the campaign the most successful the FDNY has conducted to date. The agency spent $1 million on both print and broadcast advertising. FDNY staffers conducted 6,000 recruitment events, sent 384,000 email alerts, made 146,000 phone calls to applicants and conducted tutorial sessions attended by 8,600 candidates.
FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Mannix, the founder of Merit Matters, a group that opposes race-based hiring said he was happy more minorities took the exam, but he has some concerns.
“We don’t care if the department is 100 percent white or 100 percent black, or 100 percent Asian, or 100 percent Hispanic, or 100 percent women — as long as everyone is treated equally and standards are maintained,” Mannix said, speaking in his capacity as an advocate. “That’s our whole objective.”
Mannix also said that while the new numbers show improvements in minority recruitment one-third of those who signed up to take the exam never showed up.
Controversy over the FDNY exam has been persistent over the last few years with the Vulcan Society, a fraternal group of black firefighters who have long lamented a lack of diversity in the department, joining a lawsuit launched by the Justice Department, accusing the city of discrimination.
U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis concluded the tests given in 1999, 2002 and 2007 were biased because of the small number of minorities who passed.
Mannix was also concerned that some questions on the new test are too subjective and the people who designed the exam under the supervision of special master Mary Jo White have not made public how the test would be scored.
Paul Washington, immediate past president of the Vulcans, said the FDNY’s recruiting efforts were not much better than those before the 2007 exam.
“Everything the Fire Department did, they are being forced to do,” Washington said. “There is an increase [in minority candidates], but the percentage of whites probably went up by the same amount.”