Make FDNY diverse: Council

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City Hall last week backed a bill sponsored by City Councilman Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans) to bring more diversity to New York’s Bravest.

The full Council passed Legislation No. 647-A last Thursday that calls for a resolution that would push the state Legislature to introduce a measure to give more credit to FDNY applicants who are New York City residents with high school diplomas or equivalents.

Such a law would give inner-city minorities an advantage in becoming firefighters, according to Comrie. The force is currently made up of 87 percent whites and the councilman said those numbers need to be changed.

“It is my hope that Albany will move with all deliberate speed to allow our city to address one of the most embarrassing statistics regarding its workforce,” he said in a statement.

The FDNY said it was “exploring adjustments to the residency requirements for new applicants” in a statement.

Under the bill, New York City high school graduates and city GED recipients would receive five credit points for their test to be firefighters. Currently the Fire Department only gives extra points to city residents, regardless of their academic background.

Comrie said drives to recruit more minorities were made in the 1990s, but that still did not do anything to make the FDNY more diverse. The FDNY is made up of 3.8 percent black, 7.8 percent Hispanic and 0.9 percent Asian, compared to the city’s population from the 2000 census which is 27 percent black, 27 percent Hispanic and 10 percent Asian, according to the councilman.

That year’s census data did not differentiate between white and black Latino members. Comrie added that the number of black firefighters has declined nearly 6 percent over the last two decades.

“We live in the largest city and one of the most diverse cities in the world, yet the racial makeup of our Fire Department hovers around 10 percent minorities. In major cities like Los Angeles, the fire department minority makeup is more than 44 percent,” he said.

A spokesman for the FDNY said its graduating class in 2008 was the most diverse class hired by the department.

Aside from making the force more diverse, Comrie said the added points would help the FDNY save lives more efficiently.

“Living in New York City and attending high school within the five boroughs helps individuals familiarize themselves with, among other things, the city’s neighborhoods, topography, infrastructure and layout,” he said.

Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton), who chairs the Council’s Civil Service and Labor Committee, agreed and also pushed for the state to make the changes to the test.

“The department is 87 percent white, yet over 60 percent of New Yorkers are black, Latino or Asian,” he said in a statement. “How could such an important institution as the FDNY so poorly mirror New York’s cultural identity?”

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Updated 10:33 am, October 12, 2011
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