Let’s be clear about this: the Fire Department of New York is the finest force of its kind in the world. The courage of New York’s firefighters is beyond all understanding, something we all witnessed nearly 12 years ago at the World Trade Center.
But the department is not without challenges, chief among them diversity. There is none. The department is more than 90 percent white and 99 percent male. The problem is of long standing, and it has defied court challenges and revised methods of testing, to the frustration of commissioners and top brass.
In the latest attempt to address the FDNY’s diversity gap, the city heavily recruited emergency medical technicians and paramedics who were added to the FDNY’s command under Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The EMTs and paramedics are substantially more diverse and already operate within the FDNY bureaucracy, so the move made a lot of sense.
Except for one thing: more than two dozen EMTs and paramedics have washed out of the FDNY’s rigorous training program for new firefighters in recent weeks. And there is talk that some standards have been lowered as the department struggles to persuade a federal court that the FDNY is on the right road to diversity.
It isn’t easy to become one of New York’s Bravest, and that is how it should be. Generally, a candidate has to pass a written exam and a famously rigorous physical test, although the current class of recruits took only the written exam.
Some 318 EMTs and paramedics were admitted to training school several weeks ago as the FDNY’s first recruits since 2008, when the department’s hiring protocols came under the scrutiny of federal courts. More than 40 percent of the new class was nonwhite, and six were women.
Unfortunately, 30 recruits have already quit, well before the required 18 weeks of training. Worse, more than 160 of the recruits couldn’t pass a physical fitness test that required them to do four pull-ups, 30 push-ups in a minute and 30 sit-ups in a minute, and then run a mile and a half in 12 minutes. Those who flunked the test will be given extra training.
Nobody should expect the FDNY to sacrifice its high standards at the altar of diversity. But then again, the department has no choice but to comply with a court order to diversify. Had the department been more successful in recruiting minorities and women years ago, it might not have come to this.
The courts have spoken. But it’s imperative that the FDNY resist the impulse to hand out do-overs or water down its training program in an effort to please the court.
Too many lives may hang in the balance.