City Blocked From Hiring New Firefighters Based On 'Invalid' Entrance Exam

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A federal judge is blocking the city from hiring new firefighters, based on a 2007 hiring test, which he says was unfair to black and Hispanic applicants. The New York City Fire Department says it needs to hire 300 new members before the end of August. But Judge Nicholas Garaufis says the city can only do this if it can prove its hiring needs are so urgent that they justify using a test that Garuafis describes as "invalid."

"If it's such an urgent matter, we'll sit down, and we'll start again, and try to brainstorm a way to hire," says Anjana Samant, a lawyer who represents the Vulcan Society, a fraternity of black firefighters.

But right now, as the judge points out, it's not quite clear where this urgency for hiring is coming from. Samant says the city is being disingenuous, because Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in the recent budget cycle, was prepared to make deep staff cuts by closing 20 fire companies.

"It is actually kind of curious that they're like, 'No, no, we have to do this, now,'" says Samant. "Whereas six months ago, high-level administration folks were saying, 'Actually, we can cut this force short.'"

In a written statement, the city says under-staffing is costing the department $2 million a month in overtime wages. The judge has ordered the two sides to meet in the coming days to hammer out a resolution to the city's firefighter-hiring needs. Garaufis previously ruled that the FDNY hiring exams for the 1999-2002 exams were discriminatory.