Blame the Schools, Not the Test
By Dan Halloran
Recently, a judge ruled that the FDNY’s (Fire Department of New York City) exam discriminates against minority applicants, resulting in fewer minority firefighters. The ruling overturned the appointments of about 300 new firefighters.
Some of these firefighters were Caucasian, some were Hispanic, some were African-American. (In all, about 50 were minorities.) Today, they’re all unemployed. This has hurt their families, and it’s hurt all New Yorkers. Tax dollars that could be spent on firefighters who protect our families are instead being spent in the court system.
Even before this ruling, our city was short of qualified firefighters. But the real problem isn’t the FDNY exam. It’s our schools. Our society has failed to properly educate black and Latino youths, particularly males. Yet we continue to criticize the test because it’s easier to blame a piece of paper than admit there’s a problem with our school system.
In many parts of New York City, public schools just aren’t working. Students graduate without the skills they need for the real world – and without the knowledge they need to get good jobs, such as an FDNY firefighter. I am committed to solving this problem. Blaming the test is taking the easy way out.
When there’s a fire, the race of the firefighters doesn’t matter. Just a few seconds could mean life and death. We need well-trained and well-qualified firefighters, and we need as many of them as possible. Otherwise, the lives of all New Yorkers will be in danger.
New York City Council Member Daniel J. Halloran (R-Whitestone) represents the 19th Council District, which includes all or part of the Queens neighborhoods Bayside, Bay Terrace, Whitestone, Robinwood, Malba, College Point, Flushing, Auburndale, Douglaston and Little Neck.
When are they gonna get it right?
By John Ruiz
I am a proud Black Puerto Rican man who took the NYC Fire Department written exam in 1978 at the encouragement of my mother. The joke at the time was that as a man of color “you had better luck becoming a professional basketball player than a NYC firefighter.” Controversy has never escaped the FDNY as African-Americans, Latinos, and women demanded greater inclusion in a department that has historically been white and male.
For me, the discrimination didn’t end when I got my assignment; it intensified. The racism was everywhere. Hostility came even from Latinos and Blacks who were pressured, as a way of being “accepted”, to do the work no one else wanted to do. However, knowing that I had a family to support helped me get through those tough 19 years.
On September 14, this Black Puerto Rican from El Barrio will defy the FDNY’s history of racism by becoming the first NYC firefighter in the department’s 145 years to be elected to statewide public office. I want this historic accomplishment to inspire men and women of all backgrounds to pursue a career as a firefighter and to challenge the institutional discrimination which continues to be pervasive throughout too many levels of government. Despite a historic number of applicants of color, the FDNY still has a force that is over 90% white—this in the country’s most diverse city. Clearly, something must change.
Recently, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding our city’s firefighter exam. This issue has no easy solution and one I don’t believe will be found in the courtroom. Court rulings can highlight and pinpoint inequalities and demand they be rectified but it is only through a concerted effort on the part of the City that brings firefighters, the Hispanic and Vulcan Societies and other diverse voices to the table that true justice will be served.
The recent rulings have sent a clear message: institutional discrimination is alive and well within the Department’s ranks. I challenge the Bloomberg administration to truly engage in making the FDNY more reflective of this beautiful city we call home.
John Ruiz, FDNY Retired