FDNY acknowledges diversity challenges but sees potential for change ahead
FDNY said 41% of its 2021 probationary class identified as people of color, but it can take up to six years for an applicant to be called
Kristin F. Dalton
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The FDNY said it's trying to make its workforce more diverse and representative of the people it serves, acknowledging during a Committee on Fire and Emergency Management hearing that uniformed firefighter and officer positions "continue to be almost exclusively male and overwhelmingly white."
Currently, the Department's 11,000 uniformed firefighters are not that diverse — 76% are white, 8% are Black, 13% are Asian and 0.8% identify as another ethnicity, according to a committee report.
There's also a lack of diversity in FDNY leadership; the FDNY's Bureau of Fire Protection is nearly all white men.
And of the 11,000 uniformed firefighters, only 139 — roughly 1% — are women.
FDNY officials at the hearing said Department applications have become more diverse over the years, but diversity within the FDNY remains low because there are only a handful of openings that are filled each year.
In 2021, the FDNY said 41% of its probationary class identified as people of color.
FDNY Acting Commissioner Laura Kavanaugh said at the hearing it can take an applicant up to six years on the waiting list to be called.
Several pieces of legislation, all of which relate to diversity, were introduced during the committee meeting.
One of the laws would require the FDNY to make upgrades its firehouses "to ensure a safe working environment for a mixed gender workforce;" another law would require the Department to create a plan to diversify its workforce, so it adequately reflects the diversity of the people it serves in New York City and report its efforts annually.
A third law would require the FDNY to have diversity, harassment and inclusion training, and have the Department report annually any equal employment opportunity complaints made by staff.
PROBLEMS WITHIN FDNY'S EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY OFFICE
The FDNY has a backlog of discrimination cases waiting to be addressed by the equal employment opportunity office — which is understaffed and struggling to hire attorneys to handle to cases, said Assistant Commissioner Don Nguyen, who is head of the office.
The equal employment opportunity office has only nine full-time employees even though the FDNY's budget accounts for 19 employees, Nguyen said.
The lack of employees not only creates a backlog of cases but means long wait times for outcomes on allegations of harassment and discrimination.
While many discrimination and harassment cases are reported, there are many that go unreported.
"The allegations of abuse and harassment are disproportionately made by the people who are least represented in the fire department. It's really important that we continue to deliberately and intentionally support the people who are most marginalized," said Councilwoman Crystal Hudson (D- Brooklyn) at Monday's hearing.
Uniformed firefighters who testified at the hearing said filing a complaint with the equal employment opportunity office can sometimes make matters worse; employees said they've been singled out and ostracized for making complaints, and it's often months before it's investigated.
Advocates for Black and women firefighters have called for the equal employment opportunity office, which is one of the smallest offices within the Department, to be restructured.
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