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The temporary 104th Precinct Community Council was sworn in on Wednesday
The temporary 104th Precinct Community Council was sworn in on Wednesday

Commissioner: We’re Working To Change

With women making up a miniscule percentage of the Fire Department’s workforce, local elected officials called on the city’s Bravest last Wednesday, Dec. 10, to bring more females into their ranks.

During a City Hall press conference last Wednesday, Dec. 10, City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley (at podium) called on the Fire Department to recruit and hire additional female firefighters.

City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley and the United Women Firefighters (UWF) organization made the plea during a press conference on the City Hall steps moments prior to a scheduled joint hearing between Fire Department officials and the City Council’s Contracts, Fire and Justice and Women’s Issues committees.

According to Crowley, only 44 female firefighters work for the FDNY, which has 10,500 personnel. Last Wednesday’s hearing was to address the disparity and consider legislation (Intro. No. 579, sponsored by City Council Member Helen Rosenthal) which would require the Fire Department to provide further information to city lawmakers about the firefighter applicant pool based on race and gender.

“It’s time to shatter any barriers that still exist for physically fit, qualified women to become New York City firefighters,” said Crowley, who chairs the Fire and Criminal Justice Committee and co-chairs the City Council’s Women’s Caucus. “The city not only needs to increase and rethink its recruitment efforts, it needs to answer serious questions regarding testing methods in the Fire Academy that may keep female probationary officers from graduating.”

“Equal employment and opportunity preserves the diversity of our city and workforce while strengthening our economy,” added City Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, who chairs the Women’s Issues Committee. “Through our joint committee hearing, we can better assess the barriers that women face in most industries, especially public service, and identify concrete solutions to support women in the workforce.”

“The FDNY is so behind the times that we would have to hire over 400 more women just to be at the national average,” said UWF President Sarinya Srisakul. “The mayor and the FDNY need to end their use of illegal and extraneous barriers that keep qualified women out. This is an important civil rights issue of which the resolution is long overdue. Decades of the FDNY being an ‘old boys club’ has to stop now.”

Diversity at the Fire Department has been the subject of much controversy in recent years. Earlier this year, the de Blasio administration settled a federal lawsuit with the Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters that claimed the FDNY’s entrance exams were unfair to minority candidates.

During last Wednesday’s hearing, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro stated disparities was the result of decades of departmental decision made “in rooms lacking any meaningful diversity.”

“Rarely were the opinions of women and people of color even considered,” he said. “There should be no place for this kind of inequality.”

Since taking office in June, Nigro stated, he appointed a new chief diversity officer, Pam Lassiter, to incorporate various short- and long-term changes to make the Fire Department more inviting for minority and female candidates. He also appointed Elizabeth Cassio as executive officer, bringing a female voice to the table “when major decisions are made at the department.”

The commissioner stated the Fire Department’s highestranking officials are working to change the culture from the ground up, starting at its Randalls Island academy. Probationary firefighters are required to undergo diversity training so they understand prior to being assigned upon graduation that “they treat all members of the department—including women—with professionalism, dignity and respect.”

Nigro expects further changes at the academy based on the report of an independent consultant hired to evaluate the training facility in 2015.

The commissioner added he also changed the impact of the department’s Functional Skills Tests (FST) on candidates’ grades. He removed the critical pass component so the FST score is not the sole basis for deciding to graduate a candidate, and also eliminated the midterm FST passing score requirement in order for candidates to serve a one-week training program at a firehouse.

In order to recruit and prepare additional women to join the Fire Department, Nigro said, the FDNY Foundation is funding the UWF’s physical training program. The Fire Department is also selecting candidates from the civil service lists, which are valid for up to four years. This ensures that 60 female candidates who took the civil service exam will be considered before the next entrance exam is given in 2017.

“I know we can maintain the high standards the public expects from New York City firefighters while ensuring the process is fair for all who want to join our ranks,” Nigro said. “These changes were only the first step. We must no longer wait for a judge’s ruling to tell us what fairness means.”

Lassiter added the Fire Department’s recruitment office aims to increase outreach to potential female candidates and work with private organizations to convince women to join the agency. She added the Fire Department will conduct a “full analysis of the application process to find out what points and why we lose female candidates so we can work on changes to the process.”

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