2011-07-15 / Top Stories

Garaufis OK’s Firefighter Hiring

By Howard Schwach

New York City is poised to test firefighter candidates for the first time in more than four years thanks to a deal cut with Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis, who ruled nearly five years ago that the city’s firefighter test was racially biased because so few minorities passed.

Fire Department officials said that the sign up process, expected to draw as many as 40,000 applicants, could begin next week and run until mid- September.

The application process could be completed online, officials said.

The test would be held early next year.

In October of 2010, Garaufis made permanent his earlier decision to bar the city from hiring new firefighters based on an entrance test he said discriminates against blacks and Hispanics.

Garaufis, who also ruled that many of the adult homes that dot the Rockaway peninsula restrict the freedom of their patients and ordered that they be moved into assisted living situations throughout the community, had earlier ruled in the Fire Department case that the city could move on hiring only by setting up a quota system that would allow for more minority hires.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg had determined to go along with the judge’s ruling, but then reversed course and refused to set up a quota system.

He hoped that the judge would reverse his ruling and allow for some hiring from the disputed list, arguing that new hires were necessary to maintain manning levels and to keep control of overtime.

Garaufis made clear that he wasn’t buying the mayor’s argument.

“The Fire Department’s use of discriminatory testing procedures is a decades-old problem,” wrote Garaufis in his ruling.

He emphasized that the city can still hire the personnel it needs — as long as it uses one of five court-approved methods for ensuring that firefighter recruits better represent a cross-section of the city’s population.

In September, the city had rejected the options, arguing that they represented “some form of race-based quota.”

The city had also argued that the judge’s earlier temporary ruling was creating a manpower shortage, endangering the public’s safety.

The judge countered in his most recent ruling that the city’s argument lacks credibility, given that the FDNY is considering closing firehouses and reducing staffing levels.

Garaufis said that many issues are unresolved, but that he understands the city’s need for new firefighters.

City officials argued that the fee to take the test should be $45, but the judge ordered that the cost be held to $30, the same charge as the last test, which was held in 2006.

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