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Black Firefighters Say City's Most Recent Entrance Exam Also Racially Discriminates

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A federal judge in Brooklyn will soon decide whether a 2007 entrance exam for firefighters discriminated against blacks and Hispanics.

The city wants to use the 2007 test results because it says it needs to quickly hire 300 new firefighters before the end of summer. No other entrance exam has been administered since 2007.

Anjana Samant is a lawyer for the Vulcan Society -- a fraternity of black firefighters who say the test was too hard for entry-level firefighters, and that candidates who are family members of the predominantly white fire department had an unfair advantage. "There's no doubt that individuals who come from families of firefighters are more familiar with the lingo," says Samant, "with the way in which the firefighting system and the processes work, and engine houses work or ladder companies work." Samant says court papers show the FDNY is currently 93 percent white and the department has a tradition of hiring generations of family members.

Both the city and the Vulcan Society agree that the number of white candidates who passed the 2007 test far exceeded the number of minority candidates who passed. The law requires that the city show the test was properly designed to fit the needs of the fire department.

The Vulcan Society says the 2007 test is racially discriminatory and therefore the city should ignore the exam results when hiring the new summer class. The organization says the pool of new hires should instead be about 40 percent minority. That proportion would reflect the pool of candidates who took the 2007 test.

But if the test is thrown out, Samant says the court would still need to figure out a way to ensure these minority hires would be qualified to be firefighters. "Obviously, the Vulcan Society is concerned about public safety," says Samant. "They want people coming on the force from their communities who are going to do a great job. Most certainly, you know, they have no interest in just randomly pulling someone off the street."

Lawyers for the city declined to comment on the pending case.

The hearing will likely conclude this afternoon. Judge Nicholas Garaufis is expected to issue a decision by next week. He has already ruled that two exams from 1999 and 2002 were discriminatory.