2011-12-30 / Top Stories

Controversy Grows Over Home Visits

By Howard Schwach

Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis Federal Judge Nicholas Garaufis Adding to an already contentious procedure, the city and the organization representing black firefighters are involved in a battle over whether or not to visit those minority applicants for the next firefighter test who have not yet completed their applications.

The question has gone to the federal court monitor charged with diversifying the city’s Fire Department and he has allowed black firefighters to go door to door to persuade black applicants to join the department over objections from city lawyers.

As part of a pilot program that was described in papers filed on Tuesday in Federal District Court in Brooklyn, members of the Vulcan Society, an organization of black firefighters that sued the city for discrimination, will be provided with a list of all of the black applicants whose applications are incomplete, so that Vulcan members can visit their homes and encourage them to follow up and complete their applications in order to take the February 27 test.

The city says that the Fire Department’s recruitment office already makes phone calls to applicants, and in a letter filed with the court, the city argued that this outreach was sufficient and that further efforts would violate the applicants’ privacy and cause confusion.

But the court monitor, Mark S. Cohen, found value in the home visits, hewing closely to an earlier ruling by the presiding judge in the case, Nicholas G. Garaufis.

After a bench trial, Judge Garaufis found that “the evidence shows that white firefighter candidates are significantly more likely to have friends or family members in the FDNY maintaining contact with them and encouraging them to persevere through FDNY’s inordinately long hiring process,” and that “black firefighters are significantly less likely to have similar informal support mechanisms available to them because of the city’s history of discriminatory testing procedures.”

Records supplied by the city show that, by December 1, there were 4,414 pending applications for the Fire Department exam. Nearly 52 percent of those were from black applicants. It was not clear, however, how many of those completed their applications and will eventually take the test.

The court will permit the Vulcan Society to make home visits on three weekends in January. The monitor will reassess the effort after the pilot period ends.

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