A diverse FDNY

It took years of litigation and complaints, but the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) finally has a hiring process that will bring it closer to reflecting the diversity of the city it protects.

The institutional discrimination that prevailed and persisted in the FDNY for decades-largely locking out nonwhite applicants-was an unacceptable anomaly in a city as diverse as ours.

Currently, 90% of the Department’s employees are white men. Only 800 (6%) of its more than 14,000 employees are Hispanic, despite the fact that Latinos account for nearly 30% of the city’s population.

Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis is presiding over a discrimination lawsuit filed against the FDNY by the Vulcan Society, a group of African-American firefighters. Garaufis deserves credit for understanding the importance of fair recruitment practices and requiring the City to implement reforms to avoid employment discrimination in the Department.

Garaufis found in 2010 that the FDNY’s entrance test favored white candidates and was biased against minority applicants. The judge then ordered that a new test be developed and overseen by a court-appointed monitor-an act that sent the Bloomberg administration kicking and screaming.

Last week, Garaufis approved the new entrance test given this year to more than 41,000 applicants. Garaufis’ approval lifts the order that froze hiring in the Department for four years. The FDNY will now resume hiring, and the new class of firefighters is expected to be 20% African American, 23% Hispanic and 4% Asian.

Garaufis ordered that the hiring process continue to be overseen by a monitor.

We agree. Changing the decades-long culture of discrimination at the FDNY will take more than a round of tests. And ensuring NYC is truly committed to diversity requires awarenesa nd often legal action, as this chapter has made clear.