Washington Gadfly

FDNY Hires Ex-Cons For Diversity

Nine rookie FDNY firefighters, all minorities, are convicted felons hired to “diversify” the ranks.

According to a little-noticed  New York Post story this weekend, the ex-cons include, “a black 32-year-old who joined the city as an EMT in 2012, served more than a year in the Nassau County Correctional Center after two 2005 convictions for carrying loaded guns.”

His record also includes two prior “counts of criminal gun possession, one a felony.”

Under current law and FDNY regulations, felons are eligible for employment if granted a “certificate of good conduct” from the Department of Corrections. It is issued to ”people convicted of two or more felonies who have stayed clean for three to five years, or those with any criminal records seeking ‘public office,’” including firefighting, explained Post reporter Susan Edelman.

The newly-minted black fireman and possible Second Amendment enthusiast was granted the certificate in 2015.

One FDNY veteran found the probationary hires troubling. “I agree that people deserve a second chance, but how far are we going to go?”

But an advocate for allowing ex-felons trying to get jobs like everybody else offered a different to the Washington Gadfly. Firefighting is “an inherently risky profession and anybody willing to take that risk must have a desire to help others,” said Legal Action Center director Sebastian Solomon. “It is not an easy job to get into.”

He added that, under current New York state law, applicants’ criminal records should not be grounds for elimination from consideration since their past misdeeds are unrelated to firefighter duties.

Solomon agreed with this non-legal analysis: if your house is burning down and firefighters just arrive you probably won’t be worrying too much about whether any of them were convicted for gun possession 10 years earlier.

The ex-cons are among the 295 “probies,” or probationary firefighters, who graduated from the FDNY academy earlier this month. The class was 23.3 percent Hispanic and 15.3 percent black.

This January, two white part-time FDNY  physicians, with decades of experience, sued for discrimination because they were denied a full-time job in favor of a black woman who only recently graduated from medical school. The position required medical board certification for the physician’s specialty.   

But the FDNY in 2014 ignored the rule and hired Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons graduate Shenecia Beecher anyway.

But hiring the ex-cons is somewhat different because FDNY does not appear to be bending or flouting any current rules.

In  2013, however, the Department, ordered by Brooklyn federal judge Nicholas Garaufis to hire more minorities,  said ex-cons with the certificates of good conduct could be considered for employment.

The Department has also lowered the standards for physical strength tests to recruit more women — even allowing them to re-take the test despite multiple failures.