Controversy continues to surround the FDNY entrance exam. This time, white candidates are blasting the fraternal organization of black firefighters, claiming they were not allowed to attend test prep classes it had scheduled at locations throughout the city.
And the black organization is hitting right back, criticizing some of the candidates for using the language of the civil rights era.
The Vulcan Society, which has long lamented the lack of diversity in the Fire Department, and joined a Justice Department lawsuit against the city, claiming that the FDNY tests are biased as demonstrated by how few minorities pass, is now itself being accused of racism.
The group got a list of black firefighter candidates, about 12,000 of them, from the federal judge overseeing the case, and sent them an email invitation to attend the classes. In the past they had gotten the names from the city, but due to the litigation the municipality was uncooperative this time, according to Paul Washington, immediate past president of the Vulcan Society.
Washington, who has overseen the content of the prep classes for the last 15 years, added that they have always been conducted in this way. The Vulcans give priority to black candidates, and any white candidates who show up are allowed in, provided there are the resources to accommodate them, Washington said. He added that the Vulcans have tutored more than 200 white candidates in the last week.
But a large group of Caucasians, who showed up for a class at MS 72 in Rochdale Village on Thursday, were turned away. Video footage captured the angry individuals shouting at an African-American fire official — a lieutenant representing the Vulcan Society, according to the YouTube description of the film — stationed at the door.
“You should be ashamed to wear that badge,” yelled one man. Others shouted statements like “No justice, no peace,” “What would Martin Luther King do?” and “No white people were allowed in.”
Washington said the email, intended for black candidates only, was intercepted by FDNY Deputy Chief Paul Mannix, the founder of Merit Matters, a group that opposes race-based hiring, and sent to as many white candidates as possible in an attempt to “sabotage” their classes and try to depict them as racist — something Mannix denies.
“They should have made it clear right away,” Mannix said. “To think in this day and age that you are going to send an email out and it’s not going to be forwarded is ridiculous.
“I would not be sending my supporters on a wild goose chase to someplace where I knew they were going to be made to feel uncomfortable,” he continued.
Washington also blasted the crowd at Rochdale for what he considers making light of the black civil rights movement.
“They were out there singing, “We shall overcome,” Washington said. “They can’t possibly believe that not being let into a prep class is the same thing as being lynched, forced to sit at the back of the bus, or not being allowed to vote. It was pure mockery.”
Washington also accused Mannix of planting people at the sites, ones who were clearly too old to be candidates, or ones that the Vulcan members recognized to already be firefighters.
“It’s a compliment that he thinks I have this vast power over these kids,” Mannix said sarcastically. “I don’t know who these kids are. I don’t know where he’s getting this from.”
He did say, however, that a few firefighters, himself included, tried to enter the classes to pick up materials for relatives who planned to take the test but could not attend the tutorials.
The fire official stationed at the Rochdale Village location told the crowd that people had to be on a special list to be admitted, but would not elaborate on who created the list and how one got on it, even though those who were shut out pressed him for answers.
“All I saw in the videos was a bunch of rowdy people, trying to cause a riot,” Washington said. “It was a prank, a stunt, by Paul Mannix.”
The city’s Law Department would not comment on the issue, instead deferring to a statement by FDNY spokesman Jim Long, who would only say, “The department is offering its own tutorial and prep classes, and all applicants are welcome.”
Among the people who couldn’t get into the Vulcan’s Rochdale class was John Guarisco, 25, of Long Island. He is white and of Italian descent. He said he definitely felt he was being discriminated against.
“The only people who were getting in were the African Americans,” he said Tuesday, adding, “I’ve never experienced racism like that before. We were made to feel like we weren’t worthy.”
Martin Tubridy, 32, of Arverne, who is of Irish descent and spent two hours outside MS 72 waiting to get in, expressed similar sentiments. “It was blatant racism,” he said Wednesday. “It was sad. I actually told them that I would pray for them.”
Mannix said he disseminated the Vulcan email announcement because he believes the group’s test prep classes are even better than the ones offered by the city.
“They present ways of answering unique and subjective questions that are on the test — ones with answers like ‘agree, strongly agree, neutral, disagree and strongly disagree,’” Mannix said. “They are victims of their own success.”
Mannix claimed he never imagined the Vulcans would try to prevent anyone from attending, and that at the first class in Brooklyn, it didn’t appear that they were.
“We applaud them for this inclusion and embrace of diversity,” Mannix wrote in an email to the members of his group. “In the first paragraph [of the Vulcan’s invitation] it does say ‘Black firefighters like yourself,’ but we can’t believe this is meant to exclude anyone based on race.”
But at the Manhattan location on Feb. 28, Mannix said, individuals complained to him that they were told, “If you did not get a special invitation, and you know who you are, you are not supposed to be here.” He added that those applicants were also warned not to try and attend other Vulcan prep classes and were not refunded the $20 they paid.
After the dispute at MS 72, Vulcan classes which were to be held in Staten Island, were canceled without warning, according to Mannix. Those who showed up were greeted by a sign that read: “The Vulcan Society — FDNY registration and trainings have been canceled indefinitely at this site.”
Washington said the class was canceled due to a lack of interest and that the Vulcans felt their resources would be better directed serving the larger numbers of interested parties in the other boroughs.