Sworn into her second term, CM Ariola sets sights on correcting FDNY promotional exam impasse with city agency

Photo courtesy of Joann Ariola’s office

Council Member Joann Ariola was sworn into her second term during a surprise inauguration that was planned by her staff, supporters and community leaders on Jan. 29.

Council Member Joann Ariola arrives at her “surprise” inauguration at P.S. 207 in Howard Beach. Photo courtesy of Joann Ariola’s office

Ariola was told she would be speaking at a ceremony honoring a local firefighter and parent who performed CPR and saved a student at P.S. 207 during a recent school trip. Many on her staff feigned illness in order to be at the Howard Beach school to set up the celebration.

Photo courtesy of the FDNY

The council member was greeted by cheers in the auditorium that was filled with friends, family, veterans, police officers, firefighters and FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. Fittingly, Ariola was sworn in 10 days after Council Speaker Adrienne Adams reappointed her chair of the Fire and Emergency Management Committee.

FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh took part in Ariola’s swearing-in ceremony. Photo courtesy of the FDNY

“We’ve done a lot of great things in the last term, and I am looking forward to ensuring that our first responders have all of the resources that they need to uphold public safety in the future,” Ariola said of her reappointment. “One of the greatest honors of my career has been to advocate for members of the FDNY— men and women who give selflessly of themselves each and every day to protect our city and its residents. I promise to continue that advocacy in the next term.”

Photo courtesy of Joann Ariola’s office

One of her top priorities is to break a bureaucratic deadlock that exists between the FDNY and the city’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS). Disgruntled firefighters and their union leaders complain the agency has bungled two promotional exams by using a faulty weighting system that failed to include seniority and merit awards in the final scores.

Photo courtesy of the FDNY

Union leaders say the score-weighting system is weighing certain candidates differently than others, and that the agency is not transparent on how the scoring system works leaving hundreds of firefighters in limbo with their promotions on indefinite hold.

“The lack of transparency from DCAS regarding the scoring system is troubling, to say the least,” Ariola said. “This isn’t some kind of ninth-grade chemistry exam that can be scored on a curve. This is a test to find and promote the future officers of the FDNY— the men and women who will lead the world’s greatest fire department for years to come.”

Uniformed Fire Officers Association president Jim Brosi explained why firefighters are furious over the deadlock.

“Officers study for years to pass these promotional exams, sacrificing time away from family and friends; it is only fair that DCAS offers transparency in how they grade these exams they prepared for,” Brosi said. “Traditional scoring methods provide a minimum baseline of proficiency for effective decision making in life and death situations.”

Firefighter Nick Pugliese noted that a good portion of the members who sat for the exam had been waiting nearly seven years for their chance at a promotional exam and it’s now been 13 months since the exam was held and there still seems to be an impasse.

“No information is available and it’s affecting all of the list,” Pugliese said. “At the top of the list are the best students for the job, our more senior members, and our veterans. They should have been promoted already.”

He noted that the middle of the list was scrambled by an apparently unilateral change in scoring by DCAS, and the end of the list has members moved out of the realistic promotional range.

“This doesn’t mention the snowball effect it’s having on the rest of the promotion cycle,” Pugliese said. “I think it hurts everyone on the job and the public as well and DCAS should at least have to answer the question of why and how they altered the scoring.”

While the Notice of Examination specified that applicants’ scores would be determined by combining 50% of their passing multiple-choice test score with 50% of the score from Performance & Seniority (P&S) awards, an application of a standard 85% for the multiple-choice test scores and 15% for P&S was mistakenly applied to the applicants’ scores. To correct the error, DCAS deleted all scores and information associated with the incorrect list from the agency’s systems.

“DCAS ensures that all exam administration is a fair and transparent process for each and every candidate, which is why after we recognized an error in the scoring calculations, we immediately removed the incorrect scores and recalculated the exams based on the scoring guidelines outlined in our Notice of Examination,” a DCAS spokesman said.

Ariola said DCAS must do a better job.

“We should accept nothing less than the very best here, and should not consider — not even for a second — any policies that would lower the quality of our promotional candidates,” Ariola said. “This is a job where any error, any delay, can mean a loss of life. It is not a job where we can afford to lower standards.”