Queens EMT advocates for FDNY age reform in pursuit of firefighter dream

A local FDNY EMT worker is looking to reform the age requirements on the FDNY firefighter promotional examination and open competitive examination.
Photo by Athena Dawson

For almost three years, Lamar Kelly has worked passionately as an FDNY EMT, serving others throughout southeastern Queens.

At the age of 32, Kelly became an EMT in 2021, eager to make a difference. His goal was to eventually become an FDNY firefighter, which has been his dream career since childhood. “My passion started with the water hose at my grandma’s house. During the early nineties when the city was burning… seeing [firefighters] do their job is what drew me to it,” he said. “Seeing them put on their leather helmets and watching the bunker gear that said FDNY on the back… as a child, it was extremely awesome,” he said.

Kelly explained that he took the route of applying through FDNY EMS to become an EMT, because it would help on the pathway of becoming a firefighter. Kelly received his EMT certification in 2016. Once he began officially working as an EMT, he was able to get valuable skills and learned experiences working in the field with fellow EMTs and paramedics. “I got certified and I put it to good use. There’s always going to be something going on and you’re always going to get that exposure when you’re paired up with somebody that’s experienced in EMS or fire or police,” he said.  

Although he has found his footing as an EMT, Kelly has always held onto his goal of becoming a firefighter. Kelly explained that due to his current age, 35, he has aged out of firefighter examinations due to the job’s strict age restrictions and previous hiring freezes.

There are a few routes that EMTs and paramedics can take to become firefighters, including taking the FDNY EMS fire promotional exam or an open competitive examination. The promotional examination is given to EMS workers and paramedics, and the open competitive exam is open to anyone within the city who meets the requirements of becoming a firefighter, regardless of what organization or background. The age limit for both examinations is 29. Typically, the examinations are given every 4 to 5 years.

Kelly took the last listed open competitive examination in 2017 and scored a 95. He said despite the relatively high score, the competitive nature of the FDNY firefighter examination made it challenging for him to be called to be a firefighter. His name was added to a list of thousands of applicants who took the examination at that time. 

Kelly was eager for reform and in 2021, prior to becoming an EMT, he created a petition that called for the age limit for the open competitive firefighter exam to be raised to 36, and the age limit for the FDNY employee’s firefighter promotional examination to be removed. “I took a chance, and I created that petition, and it gained some traction over the last three years with over 3,000 signatures on it currently,” he said. Kelly said the age requirements are limiting the candidate pools to those who may be older and are still physically fit enough to deal with the day-to-day obligations of being a firefighter.  

Kelly added that there could be reforms created mirrored off of previous age extension allowances that the FDNY created. He explained that in 2012, due to a hiring freeze, the FDNY hadn’t had a firefighter promotional exam for over 5 years prior, so the organization granted a one-time age extension of 35 for members who had aged out of the examination.

Kelly said he supported a grassroots organization of FDNY EMS workers that advocated for the passage of City Council Bill 11990, which allowed a one-time exception to the age requirement for the promotional examination, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The legislation created a waiver for FDNY EMS members who missed the age cut-off for the 2020 examination to take the examination in 2024. “We witnessed a very great deal of tragedy that happened during 2020, which is a very tough time. To have the opportunity for promotion to be taken away because you aged out wasn’t right, so people spoke up about it,” he said. 

Kelly and a group of grassroots EMS organizers and the City Council met to pass bill 11990

Kelly is still not giving up on his dream of becoming a firefighter. Despite exceeding the age limit, he sat for this year’s promotional examination. “I took a chance and sat for it,” he said.

Kelly said that he hopes his petition will continue to gain traction and invoke some change, and create a longer-term age limit policy for the FDNY EMS fire promotional exam and open competitive examination. ”Personally, what I hope is, another bill comes out of this, or make an amendment to the bill that passed, so everybody that wants to promote… can get that opportunity to promote, to become a firefighter and make their dream come true,” he said.