FDNY Succeeding in Attracting Minorities, but They Need to Know How to Prepare

May 16, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Fire Department of New York officials announced this month that a record number of minorities took its firefighter exam this spring. The Fire Department says nearly 46 percent of the potential recruits were members of minority groups. The number of women test-takers also saw an increase this year. Nearly 2,000 women took the test. That’s more than the past three test years combined. That’s a good thing, but it’d be even better if these applicants were even more prepared. More on that in a minute.

Big Improvement

New York has long struggled with hiring a diverse workforce in both its fire and police departments. Of the 11,200 uniformed firefighters in New York City, just 9 percent are Black or Hispanic. The FDNY may have finally implemented an effective (though court-ordered) recruitment effort and attracted a diverse group of applicants.

John Combs, president of the black firefighters’ group called the Vulcan Society, made an important point by saying he “hopes the increases in minorities taking the test translate into actual employment.” Those from disadvantaged backgrounds (e.g., minorities) often fail to pass all of the selection components, and even if they do, they do so at a lower level than others.

Here’s why: The number of candidates selected compared to the number who apply is very low. There are insufficient preparatory and information sessions for applicants about the job, recruit school, selection process components, and the personality traits needed for both the job, and the extended hiring and training program. While it appears that the New York Fire Department offers information on its website, information about the job, recruit school, and the remainder of the selection process is lacking. The most important information — how to prepare for the process — could not be found online. Fire department selection processes may include background investigations, interviews, physical ability tests, and more.

More often than not, candidates from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds and women who are often unfamiliar with the public safety environment are much less prepared to compete in the selection process than those who have sufficient information needed to succeed. The solution to limited exposure is a comprehensive study and dissemination of the information applicants need to advance in their careers. Here are some examples of exposure that could potentially help applicants land a job with the New York Fire Department:

  • Volunteering in a fire department. A person who volunteers and learns about the environment walks into the Fire Department selection and training process better prepared than a person without this experience.
  • A person who studies building construction manuals and hydraulics for the fire service would have an advantage in this process.
  • A person who can demonstrate that they are a team player will have an advantage because firefighters live in the same firehouse and work together on fire incidents.

In the interview process a candidate who has this type of knowledge, skills, abilities and exposures, will increase his/her probability of success.

These examples are an extremely small sample of the information needed to ace the selection process. Collecting information and preparing for a selection process takes time and effort, but it pays off in the long run.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.
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