City Hall, NY – Today, Speaker Adrienne Adams and the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus (BLAC) announced a package of bills to improve the diversity, equity and inclusion practices at the Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY). The bills seek to address the historic lack of racial and gender diversity in the FDNY and were heard at an oversight hearing of the Council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management. The legislation addresses the recruitment and retention of diverse firefighters, confronts exclusionary practices that undermine diversity, and increases transparency about FDNY’s efforts. The legislation would require FDNY to develop a concrete plan to diversify, survey firehouses and ensure they are equipped to serve a mixed gender workforce, increase transparency on the demographics of members in a firehouse through public reporting; require ongoing training on harassment, diversity and inclusion for all FDNY staff and members; and submit a public report on complaints filed with the Department’s Equal Employment Opportunities Office. There have been longstanding issues with the FDNY’s lack of gender and racial diversity that the bills aim to confront. along with requiring the department to come up with a plan when it comes to outreach of potential FDNY recruits, retention of diverse firefighters and provide more transparency in its efforts and any issues that may arise.
“No one can doubt the incredible work that New York City firefighters undertake every day. In addition to fires, our heroic FDNY firefighters respond to vehicle collisions, downed wires and floods,” said Speaker Adrienne Adams. “Unfortunately, the makeup of the FDNY is still not representative of our great city. This Council remains committed to efforts that ensure we make progress towards a diverse and representative FDNY. Despite previous efforts to boost diversity amongst firefighters, there is clearly much more work to do.”
“True equity in our City’s agencies extends further than the diversity and representation of its staff and leadership. We build trust and strengthen relationships when the entire New York City community can see themselves in those who serve and protect them daily,” said Council Member Kevin C. Riley, Co-Chair of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. “However, it is equally important that infrastructure, resources, and work culture promote a safe and supportive work environment for all New Yorkers. This is why we, the New York City Council, are pushing a package of legislation that seeks to advance gender and racial equality within the FDNY. We appreciate the hard work of our heroes at the FDNY who sacrifice and put their lives on the line to keep our families safe, but this does not take away from the need for reform and oversight over an outdated system that clearly does not serve all. As it stands now, the Department’s demographics, practices, and facilities systemically do not uplift our Black and brown communities nor does it support gender equality for all. Planning and partnership is the only way to produce outcomes that diversify the workplace. I am proud to lead with my colleagues and to partner with all stakeholders in a movement that requires a sustainable plan for enveloping equality for all FDNY members and expand opportunities that include underrepresented communities in our City.”
“Diversity in the FDNY has been an increasing concern. We have heard multiple complaints from minority groups stating that they have been overlooked for promotions and leadership positions. As well as being routinely discriminated against. I’m proud to have introduced a bill included in this package that would require the FDNY to annually report on equal employment opportunity complaints. This will ensure that we are holding the FDNY accountable, and expect the department to take these concerns seriously,” said Council Member Nantasha Williams, Treasurer of the Council’s Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. “I would like to thank Fire and Emergency Management Committee Chair Ariola for holding this important hearing as well as Speaker Adams for her leadership.”
“There’s importance in having our city agencies reflect the diversity of our city,” said Bronx Borough President Vanessa L. Gibson. “Intro 552 and 553 help to promote and protect this ideal in an agency so specific in its mission, which is responding to life-threatening fire emergencies citywide regardless of a person’s race or gender. The New York City Fire Department provides a vital service to New Yorkers that must both be protected, while reflecting the many communities it serves. As a supporter of the bills in the City Council and now as Borough President, I am proud to join Council Member Riley in pushing this initiative forward. It is our hope that in reviewing the data and bringing firehouses often built in the early 1900’s into the 21st Century, we can remove systematic barriers. I want to thank Speaker Adrienne Adams, Council Member Riley, and Council Member Williams for their advocacy and commitment to equity and to ensuring our agencies properly reflect the people of our City.”
The FDNY has historically lacked gender and racial diversity among its firefighters. Though the department has taken some steps to address the problem, uniformed firefighters and officers are still predominantly white men. According to the Council’s Committee on Fire and Emergency Management committee report, currently 76% of the department’s firefighters are white, whereas 8% are Black, 13% are Hispanic, 2% are Asian, and 0.8% identify as another ethnicity. Less than 1% of the department’s firefighters are women, amounting to only 137 of the FDNY’s 11,000 firefighting force. FDNY’s leadership is also predominantly made up of white men.
People of color have been firefighters since the early 1920s, though they have been forced to endure segregationist and discriminatory practices. These practices were experienced for decades, and a 1973 federal court decision ruled that the FDNY discriminated against racial minorities in its written test – though 32% of New York City’s population was Black or Latino in that year, they were only 5% of the FDNY. A 2007 U.S. Department of Justice and Vulcan Society lawsuit against New York City contended the FDNY’s administration of the firefighter exam discriminated against Black and Latino applicants, which the court concluded constituted intentional discrimination. The court appointed a monitor that oversees remedies to this problem to this day, and it wasn’t until 2014 that FDNY settled the lawsuit for $98 million and agreed to make changes to its hiring practices, per the Council’s committee report.
In addition, per the report, up until 50 years ago, only men were permitted to take the FDNY firefighter examination, a practice only changed due to a federal mandate. In the subsequent years, women faced continuing hardships in becoming firefighters, including the discriminatory impact of the firefighter exam. It was not until 1982 that a federal court ruled the exam discriminated against female applicants on the basis of sex.
The proposed legislation is as follows:
Introduction 516, sponsored by Speaker Adams, would require the Fire Department to develop and implement a plan for ensuring that the racial, ethnic and gender demographics of the Department’s firefighters reflect that of the City’s population as a whole. The plan would include identifying and remedying existing obstacles in the recruitment and retention of firefighters from underrepresented backgrounds, targeted recruitment campaigns, and the employment of full-time outreach office to assist with the recruitment and retention of underrepresented firefighters. Additionally, the Fire Department would be required to publicly report each year on its efforts to recruit and retain female firefighters, and firefighters of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Introduction 519, sponsored by Council Member Ariola, would require FDNY to survey all firehouses to determine the permanent facility upgrades necessary to ensure a safe working environment for a mixed gender workforce. After issuing a public report on the findings, the department would be required to complete the necessary upgrades.
Introduction 552, sponsored by Council Member Riley (by request of the Bronx Borough President), would require the Fire Department to annually report on the gender and racial or ethnic demographic breakdown of the uniformed force at firehouses, and as well as the number of individuals who reside within the geographic area that each firehouse covers.
Introduction 553, sponsored by Council Member Riley (by request of the Bronx Borough President), would require the Fire Department to provide training and education to all members and staff regarding harassment, diversity and inclusion.
Introduction 560, sponsored by Council Member Williams, will require the Fire Department to annually report on complaints about equal employment opportunity.