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Queens Chronicle

Special recruitment for black FDNY candidates

Court allows them more time than others to complete their applications

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Posted: Thursday, January 12, 2012 12:00 pm | Updated: 1:03 pm, Thu Jan 19, 2012.

Black FDNY candidates who have not completed their applications may have a recruiter knocking on their door this month encouraging them to finish the paperwork — four months past the filing deadline and several weeks after the department stopped making phone calls to candidates of other races — in what critics say amounts to special treatment.

The Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters who have long lamented a lack of diversity in the FDNY, has asked for, and been granted, permission to conduct these personal visits. The group, along with the Justice Department, is suing the city claiming that past FDNY entrance exams were biased, as evidenced by the small number of minorities who passed.

U.S. District Court Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who is presiding over the case, has appointed Mark Cohen as the court monitor, charged with overseeing the department’s hiring practices for the next decade.

Cohen decided on Dec. 27 to allow Vulcan recruiters to conduct follow-up visits with black candidates, according to Dana Loffia, an attorney with the lawfirm of Levy Ratner, which is representing the Vulcans.

It is possible that many of the applications are incomplete because the individuals have not yet paid application fees or finished requests for waivers, Loffia said.

She added that any organization could ask for permission to do home visits and probably would be allowed to do so, but the Vulcans were the only ones that stepped forward. But at least one firefighter’s group says that’s not true.

FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Mannix, founder of Merit Matters, an organization that opposes race-based hiring, said his group made numerous such requests to the FDNY Recruitment Unit, FDNY Equal Opportunity Unit and the special monitor, but were turned down.

“We don’t support anyone being able to complete an application four months after the filing period ended, but if one group is able to all groups should be able to,” Mannix, who does not speak for the Fire Department, said. “Our requests to make this happen are falling on deaf ears, so far, however. We have even volunteered to provide people to do this, and will visit all regardless of race.”

Following the Vulcan’s outreach, which is to take place over three weekends this month, the recruiters will have to report their findings and progress to the city, according to Loffia. If the pilot program is successful, it may clear the way for similar procedures in the future.

“This is government-sanctioned special treatment based on race,” Mannix said. “It’s almost like a caste system. It’s like ‘Animal Farm.’”

The city, meanwhile, is not pleased with the decision, according to published reports, arguing that the FDNY’s recruitment office already conducts its own outreach and that this latest door-to-door measure would only serve to violate people’s privacy and cause confusion. The FDNY stopped making outreach calls the week of Dec. 19, a spokesman for the department said Tuesday.

“We continue to have concerns with the Vulcans visiting people’s homes unannounced,” Georgia Pestana, a city lawyer, said in an email Monday.

But Cohen is following the lead of Garaufis, who said after the trial that white candidates may have friends or family members who are firefighters to follow through with the application process, and black candidates are likely not to have that advantage.

“The typical white candidate gets a whole lot more help from their father, their brother, their uncle, and other people in their family [who are firefighters] to guide them through the process,” Paul Washington, past president of the Vulcan Society, said last Wednesday. “This far exceeds the support black candidates will get even with these visits.”

George Ricco Diaz, president of the FDNY Hispanic Society, said that while he would be interested to find out why some blacks did not complete their applications, because the information could be used as a tool to improve recruitment efforts overall, he does not completely agree with the Vulcan’s outreach plan.

“I can understand what they’re trying to do because they are behind in their recruitment efforts, but they are grasping at straws,” Diaz said, adding, “I understand their frustration.”

He added that if a candidate does not have the desire and the initiative to complete the process, then maybe he doesn’t really want to be a firefighter. “You can’t just stop halfway,” he said. “You have to cross the finish line.”

Diaz opined that perhaps some of these candidates were pushed by a family member or friend to fill out the application, and did so to please them, rather than because they really wanted the job. He also said that the door-to-door method may be viewed by some candidates as an invasion of privacy.

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