November 29, 2022
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City Council passes bills to improve diversity in the FDNY

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The City Council has passed a package of bills aimed at improving “the historic lack of racial and gender diversity” in the FDNY, according to a council press release.

The five bills address recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups among firefighters and seeks to build transparency around the FDNY’s efforts to tackle the issue.

The legislation, sponsored by Speaker Adrienne Adams, will require the FDNY to create a plan for hiring and retaining diverse hires, and to produce an annual report on those efforts.

The package also includes legislation sponsored by Councilmember Joann Ariola, chair of the Committee on Fire and Emergency Management, requiring the FDNY to survey each firehouse to determine what facility upgrades need to be made to enable a mixed-gender workforce. The department will also be required to put in place interim measures until permanent changes are made, and to report findings to the City Council and the mayor’s office.

“The overall lack of diversity within the FDNY is a longstanding problem we must address,” Adams wrote in a statement. “As a Council, we are committed to advancing solutions that help correct this historic injustice. By passing this package of bills today, we hope to move the FDNY forward to achieving a workforce fully reflective of rich diversity of our city.”

Another bill requires the FDNY to produce an annual report on demographics, as well as a breakdown of the number of firefighters assigned to each fire company and special operations unit. The report must include information about the demographics of the population in the neighborhoods surrounding each fire company. The package of bills also mandates that the FDNY implement a plan around training and education on diversity and inclusion.

Both of those bills were sponsored by Councilmember Kevin Riley, co-chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus.

“I really wanted to make sure that we report on the demographic information in the fire department, and also make sure that they are abiding by the anti-discrimination, diversity and inclusion, anti-harassment training that they should be, so we can make our firehouses a more inclusive place for everybody, especially communities of color,” Riley said.

The last bill, sponsored by Councilmember Nantasha Williams, requires the FDNY to create an annual report on complaints filed with the department’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office, including the number of complaints received and closed during the prior year, the types of misconduct alleged in complaints, case outcomes and any corrective action taken by the department.

Williams said her office received complaints of discrimination, racist and homophobic slurs from constituents in her district who work in the fire department.

She said her bill “allows transparency, and it allows for us to really see the total scope of the issue and hopefully work to address that issue in a real way.”

The passage of the package of bills comes in the wake of years of lawsuits faced by the FDNY around discrimination in its workforce.

In September, the City Council held a hearing on the issue, during which FDNY officials provided testimony on their work to increase outreach to underrepresented groups and reduce wait times for decisions on allegations of discrimination.

According to FDNY data presented at that hearing, more than 75% of uniformed firefighters are white. Only 13% of uniformed firefighters are Hispanic and 8% are Black. By contrast, 28% of the city is Hispanic and 20% of the population is Black. About 1% of firefighters are women.

Councilmembers and advocates say the passage of these bills, which lawmakers have been trying to push through for years, can be credited to the diverse makeup of the current council.

“It’s 2022, and it’s crazy to think that some of the firehouses don’t even have the proper bathrooms or locker spaces for women,” Williams said. “When you have a council of majority women, have a speaker that’s a Black woman whose daughter was an EMS worker, it’s easy to pass meaningful legislation that should have been passed many moons ago.”

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