Women and black FDNY firefighters, fire inspectors and EMS applaud discrimination in department
President Adrienne Adams and the City Council are set to pass a set of bills that hope to improve diversity, equity and inclusion practices at the New York City Fire Department (FDNY) , known for its white “boy’s club” work environment.
The FDNY has historically lacked gender and racial diversity among its firefighters, although black men have served as firefighters since the 1920s and black women since the 1980s. According to the Council’s Fire and Emergency Management Committee Report , currently 76% of the department’s firefighters are white, 8% are black, 13% are Hispanic, and 2% are Asian. Less than 1% of the department’s firefighters are women.
“No one can doubt the incredible work New York’s firefighters undertake every day. In addition to fires, our heroic FDNY firefighters respond to vehicle collisions, downed wires and flooding,” Adams said. “Unfortunately, the composition of the FDNY is still not representative of our great city.”
The bills address issues related to the recruitment and retention of various firefighters, confront exclusionary practices and increase transparency at the FDNY. Among other things, the bills would require public reporting of complaints filed with the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office (EEO), which black firefighters say are routinely ignored.
“We are inherently going towards danger while everyone else is going the other way and someone is getting involved in saving lives at the risk of their own, you don’t want someone coming to work worrying how he is treated by someone wearing the same uniform and performing the same task and duties,” said Captain Dellon Morgan of the 1st Division and president of the Black Vulcan Firefighter Society. “It’s just too much.”
In 2007, the Black Vulcan Firefighter Society filed and won a lawsuit against the FDNY for continued discrimination in the examination process toward black and Latino applicants. The lawsuit was not settled until 2014.
Morgan said his authority is often challenged and while he can correct ‘bad behaviour’, reporting instances of discrimination is almost ‘not worth it’ as there is little justice and visible consequences. .
Firefighter Regina Wilson has worked for the FDNY for 23 years. She said female firefighters like her have to deal with sexual assault, harassment and racism in the workplace.
“We had these awful George Floyd memes going around, people taking pictures of the white power sign, pictures of Trump in the firehouse in full suits,” Wilson said. “We had firefighters there on January 6 and we had captains who called civilians niggers. We had a whole series of things that we had to withdraw from to work for this agency.
It was ruled in federal court that the FDNY discriminated against racial minorities in its written test in 1973 and again against women in 1982.
Firefighter Anita Daniel said she has had to file numerous complaints with the EEO, which come back without merit, and that she is “emotionally drained” by her experience in the department. In the most recent incident, Daniel said Capt. Chris Livolsi allegedly “slapped her behind” in the FDNY auditorium in July. She no longer trusts EEO and filed a police report for forced touching instead of keeping the complaint in-house. She provided a copy of the report to the Amsterdam News.
Race and gender are not the only areas of discrimination at the FDNY, there is a huge pay gap between uniformed and non-uniformed officers.
Fire inspectors, who act as fire prevention and safety officers, and EMS are making progress in their racial discrimination lawsuit against the FDNY. Their claim is that their salaries are not comparable to those of other agencies doing similar work, as their workforce is over 70% black, people of color and women since 2000. position.
Darryl Chalmers, FDNY Deputy Chief Inspector and Local 2507 President Oren Barzilay, said that while fire inspectors have “uniform status,” they are still considered civilians and paid less.
Chalmers explained that uniformed status was granted to firefighters in the 1960s. Prior to that, they were on the same bargaining certificate for municipal contracts as teachers and other municipal employees. In 2005, fire inspectors were added to this list.
“They only see firefighters as uniformed personnel,” Barzilay said. “That in itself is discriminatory in our eyes.”
Additionally, the City Council’s 2022 pay equity report found that the FDNY firefighter title is still held almost entirely by male employees, while non-uniformed titles are 57% female.
When considering the staggering racial and ethnic disparity in wages within the city’s municipal workforce, the high percentage of white-uniformed employees stands out, according to the report.
Ariama C. Long is a member of the Report for America corps and writes about New York culture and politics for The Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps him keep writing stories like this; please consider making a tax-deductible donation of any amount today by visiting: https://tinyurl.com/fcszwj8w