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Search for Balance at the FDNY

For decades, city officials have recognized that blacks are not proportionately represented in the city’s firehouses. Although black leaders have occasionally accused the FDNY of discrimination, they have been unable to produce evidence that the disparity is intentional.

Finally, one black official from Queens sees hope that this problem can be solved. City Councilman Leroy Comrie says he is pleased with recent efforts to recruit young blacks to the FDNY.

In an indication of just how serious the FDNY is about attracting minorities, the department recently launched a million-dollar recruitment campaign targeting blacks and Hispanics. The next firefighter exam will be held early next year.

Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano visited the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica at a recent Sunday service and later said in a statement “there is no more rewarding career than to work as a firefighter and serve the people of New York City.”

There is no shortage of young men and women wanting to be firefighters. Hundreds of candidates have already passed the test and are on the hiring list. But the agency has been unable to hire anyone since 2007, when Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis ruled the last three exams discriminated against blacks and Hispanics.

Sadly, the candidates on this list of all races have become victims of well-intentioned efforts to achieve racial balance.

We have seen no credible explanation as to why blacks appear to be less interested in a career in the FDNY. This is not the case in other large American cities, where a racial disparity still exists but is smaller. Nor are we convinced that the FDNY written test is discriminatory.

But only 9 percent of the city’s 11,200 uniformed firefighters are black or Hispanic.

In June the Council passed a resolution written by Comrie that would change the rules for FDNY hiring. This measure calls on the state Legislature to allow city residents with valid high school diplomas or GEDs to get additional points on their applications.

This will help but nothing will change until blacks see firefighting as an attractive career. Meanwhile, care must be taken to ensure that candidates of all races are treated fairly.

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