CBS News reported tonight about a lawsuit filed against the New York City Fire Department for “intentionally” keeping minorities off the force. I missed the live report, but wife Joan told me when they interviewed the Fire Chief, that his response about hiring those who passed the tests (tests to prove you know something about fire) and being told the tests are discriminatory….sounded like my dad.
Here’s the CBS story: http://tinyurl.com/2cfw8fm
My Dad was a fireman for @32 years. At different times in his job as one of the chiefs, Dad was accused of both racism and sexism. When the city asked why he didn’t have any blacks on the force, he replied that they hired from those who passed the fireman’s test. He was ordered to re-write the test. ….and then to re-write the test a second time, and a third time. He then refused to continue to modify the test, which he insisted was about finding out what someone knew about fire and he didn’t want to send people into burning buildings who didn’t understand what they were up against. Eventually, he hired an African-American and he told me about his first conversation with a guy who eventually became a strong friend. The conversation went something like,
“I want you to know that you’re a rookie on this shift. You’re not a black rookie, you’re a rookie. You’re going to scrub the tires on the trucks, not because you’re black, but because you’re a rookie. You’re going to get to wash the trucks because you’re a rookie. There are a lot of grunt jobs around here that you are going to have to do because you are a rookie. They are the same jobs I had to do when I was a rookie and which every other man on this force had to do as a rookie. I will treat you the same way I treat everyone else on this force. I’ll give you the same respect and expect the same respect in return. Oh, and another thing. You need to trim your hair, not because you’re black, but because if you go into a burning building with that Afro sticking out the bottom of a helmet, you’re gonna burn. So just to make sure that we understand each other, if you don’t show me your ‘black power’ (common phrase at that time), I won’t show you my white (i.e. I’m the fire chief) power.”
He was also in charge when they wanted to hire women and wanted him to have one on his shift. He fought it, but eventually lost. His reasoning:
“Other than the fact that you’re requiring me to build another restroom, another shower/locker area and another sleeping quarters in this building without giving me any additional space in which to do it, I have no problem with any female firefighter who can get all the hair under the helmet, can hold a hose with high pressure water coming out and can climb out of an upper story window with a 250 pound man of dead weight on her shoulder as she climbs down the ladder.”
You can read more of my Father’s Day tribute to MY dad at http://wp.me/pIYXs-3l.
I’ll save another post possibility to discuss the issue of discriminatory tests as I admit trying to be open minded enough to understand some of the claims about “white” tests. I am all for a blended force for Fire and Police Departments…..they should not have tests to exclude anyone, but absolutely have the right AND THE RESPONSIBILITY to assure that those who join their ranks are qualified.