#56. Firefighter Tests

You can have standards that one must aspire to achieve or you can have diversity. You can have a nation where merit matters or you can have diversity.

Why do Blacks fail firefighting exams?

You can have communities, companies and associations built upon trust and with a unified vision or you can have diversity, which is anathema to the concept of team-building.

Black-Run America (BRA) infects every level of society, but one test that Black people fail all across the country at numbers greater than whites, Asians or Hispanics – and the reaction to this continued failure rate – enables those neophytes to the concept of BRA to get a glimpse of its awesome power.

It doesn’t matter if the city is Philadelphia, Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Dayton (Ohio), Baltimore, Washington DC, San Francisco, Atlanta or Nashville; Black people who aspire to be firefighters consistently fail the examination portion of test that disqualifies them before they even have to opportunity to fight a fire. Why is that?

Take a look at this story from Birmingham in 1995, courtesy of The New York Times:

The firefighters are color-blind in the smoke. The black and white faces are hidden behind oxygen masks, and any resentment they carry inside a burning building is melted away by the heat.

“Fire doesn’t discriminate,” said Lieut. Sandy Hatton, a 19-year veteran of the Birmingham Fire and Rescue Unit, who is white. Never, he said, would a firefighter hesitate to come to the aid of another because of color.
“I will not allow myself to entertain a situation where I’d go into a burning building and they wouldn’t bring me out,” said Lieut. Carl Cook, 48, who is black. “I can’t even fathom anything like that.”

But the bond cemented by the danger is brittle and temporary. When a fire is out and the danger is over, when tired firefighters flop down to rest or joke, the old resentments bubble up.

Then, the firefighters often split off into groups by color.

It is not unusual for there to be a white table and a black table for morning coffee, or for blacks to take breaks outside while whites take them inside.

Birmingham is still shorthand for some of the most violent memories from the civil rights era. But the split in the fire department is not some lingering hatred from the 1960’s; it is a byproduct of one of the remedies of Jim Crow rule: affirmative action.

In the current nationwide debate, Birmingham is an example of how affirmative action can foster resentments and prejudices that are reverse of those they were intended to overcome.

In 1981, to atone for the past sins of city leaders who once excluded blacks from the fire department, the city began passing over whites for hiring and promotions in favor of blacks who were, on paper at least, less qualified. And for as long as this rigid quota system has been in place, white firefighters have challenged it in Federal court.

Last year, in an opinion that traced the evolution of the law in its application to affirmative action and set a new legal precedent for reverse discrimination, the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled in favor of the white firefighters. In April the Supreme Court allowed that decision to stand. The lower courts now must figure out how to compensate them.

Now, the main legal battle is over, said Lieutenant Hatton, one of the plaintiffs, “but I’m not sure anything’s been won.” 

A Remedy Becomes A New Problem

Birmingham was successful in promoting blacks at all levels of the fire department. It changed the face of a department, once synonymous with fire hoses and police dogs of the bloody civil rights clashes in the 1960’s, into one that more closely resembled the surrounding community.

But it did so in a way that built walls instead of bridges, the appeals court found.

“We’ve segregated ourselves, informally” said Capt. Charles A. Brush, who heads the white firefighter’s union, the Birmingham Firefighters Association. Black firefighters have their own union, the Birmingham Brothers Association.

The affirmative-action program began when Richard Arrington, Birmingham’s first black mayor, signed into law a consent decree that began an unbending one-to-one hiring and promotion schedule for blacks and whites.

Developed by the city and the United States Justice Department as an answer to a discrimination suit by black firefighters, the program was heralded at the time as a blow against the racist politics of the past. But it went too far, white firefighters said. Black candidates, however, complained that a part of the program that gave whites seniority points was still unfair because the whites, as a group, had much more time in the department.

Under the program, which reserved slots for blacks, white firefighters who scored consistently in the top 10 on examinations for promotion to lieutenant were routinely passed over to get to black candidates who ranked as low as 87.

For example, in 1983, 95 whites and 18 blacks took a lieutenant’s examination, and 89 whites and 9 blacks passed. Two whites and three blacks were promoted to lieutenant.

The city picked the whites who ranked first and second then passed over 76 other whites to promote the three highest-scoring black candidates.

“It became purely race, not merit,” said Lieutenant Hatton, who was passed over again and again for promotion even though he scored in the 90’s on the 100-point test. Meanwhile, blacks who had scored as low as 48 on the same test were promoted. “It killed our enthusiasm,” he said.

The appeals court agreed, and ruled that the system violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the due-process clause of the Constitution. The court found that the program used race as “an overbroad remedy” in the 500-member department, which is now about 30 percent black.

“We can imagine nothing less conducive to eliminating the vestiges of past discrimination than a government separating its employees into two categories, black and non-black, and allocating a rigid, inflexible number of promotions to each group, year in and year out,” the court wrote.

So back in 1983, half of the Blacks who took the test passed and yet 78 of the 89 whites who passed the test scored higher than all nine of those Blacks. Seventy-six white were passed over for promotion so that three Blacks could be promoted. Fire doesn’t discriminate, but BRA mandates a much more sadistic eventuality.

Black failure in BRA can only be the result of discrimination. No other reason can be conjured to explain Black failure save for systematic and continued discrimination on the parts of white people who devise tests that whites, Asians and Hispanics can pass, but have the ability to mentally incapacitate otherwise erudite Black test-takers:

San Francisco Fire Department Battalion Chief Kevin Taylor is a commanding figure at more than 6 feet tall, with a firefighter’s all-muscle build. But he speaks in soft, measured words, even when making explosive allegations against his employer.

Taylor claims that last summer, a senior SFFD officer helped white colleagues cheat on an advancement exam. By the fall, when the exams had been completed, the city’s two black assistant fire chiefs scored somewhat poorly and retired rather than face demotion. Lower-ranking firefighters, meanwhile, placed at the top of a list of officers eligible to be promoted. “And they’re all white males,” Taylor says.

For Taylor, this was an unfair purge. The accusation is ironic, given that Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White was recruited in the wake of a 1987 court decree demanding an end to sexism and racism in the department (she declined to comment for this column). And there’s evidence she supports diversity: In July, she appointed African-American firefighter Monica Fields as deputy chief.

But the city will now take Taylor’s allegations seriously. In a special meeting, civil service commissioners will soon review documents from a Department of Human Resources investigation into the cheating allegations that concluded Taylor’s claims were unfounded.

Despite these efforts, I think the inquiry could be more effective — either in exonerating accused cheaters, or confirming Taylor’s claims — if it weren’t hampered by a conflict of interest where the person in charge of creating and administering the test was also assigned to determine whether cheating nullified its results.
Promotions resulting from this test may involve pay hikes worth millions of dollars over the years, and cheating allegations warrant an independent inquiry.

Black firefighters in Washington DC allege the same biases that are found in San Francisco. But a month ago courts ruled in Houston that Black failure on tests hampered the aspirations of Black firefighters to attain a promotion. The tests used to qualify who is ready for a promotion have been deemed irrelevant because of the repeated failures by Black people and simultaneous successes of white test takers:

Seven black city firefighters passed over for promotion because they did not score high enough on a written exam will rise to captains’ ranks and get cash payments if the Houston City Council approves a lawsuit settlement Wednesday.
Lawyers for the city have negotiated a settlement that offers $301,165.12 in attorneys fees and back pay to Dwight Bazile, Johnny Garrett, Thomas Ward, Mundo Olford, George Runnels, Trevin Hines and Dwight Allen.
Garrett, Ward and Runnell have retired since the lawsuit was filed.
The seven passed exams for captain or senior captain in 2006, but many white firefighters scored higher. Because promotions were awarded to candidates with the highest scores, the seven did not make the cut.
They sued in 2008, arguing the city discriminated against them by using a racially biased test. The lawsuit states that the promotional exams “have an adverse impact upon African-Americans.”
Whites who passed the exam were promoted at more than twice the rate of blacks who passed, according to the suit. It also claims that studies and research in organizational psychology demonstrate that written job knowledge exams have little value in predicting who will perform better in the positions at stake.

‘Changes needed’

The settlement is not an acknowledgment of any wrongdoing, City Attorney David Feldman said.
“There clearly were concerns with respect to the exam and the impact of the exam,” he said. “As we looked at it, and as the court looked at it, we recognized that changes needed to be made to the exam so that it could properly validated for (equal opportunity) purposes.”
Feldman said the Fire Department will begin using a new exam this year that has been validated by a testing firm to assure that it does not produce results related to the race or ethnicity of the test takers.
The plan headed to council does not settle how to test going forward. Wednesday’s settlement would only dispose of the claims of the seven firefighters. Changes to the promotional system should be negotiated with the representatives of the entire firefighting corps, not just seven of them, said Jeff Caynon, president of the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association.
In Philadelphia, some sort of dispute between the African American Firefighter Union and the city has finally been settled. Black firefighters alleged… something, and claimed they were the recipients of bias or… something. People in power listened because BRA mandates that any complaint of racism be vigorously pursued and stamped out, even if such a complaint has no merit. 
That should be a Black guy saving the Black kid in Backdraft

Remember Dayton, Ohio? Knowing that Black people – for some reason – are more than likely going to be victims of fire deaths, the city of Dayton has done everything possible to get more Black firefighters:

The 80-year-old woman gasps for air as she drags her oxygen line along the floor of her east Dayton apartment, past firefighter Mike Spencer. 

The broad-shouldered, black firefighter towers over the elderly white woman with emphysema who is barely 5-feet tall and 100 pounds.

Spencer, 41, helps her downstairs to a waiting ambulance like he was taking his own mother to the hospital.

His tender touch is not unusual for firefighters at Dayton Fire Department Company 18, housed in the fire station at 207 S. Smithville Road. What is unusual is Spencer is one of just six black firefighters, including Chief Herbert Redden, out of about 300 firefighters in the entire department.

DFD’s diversity has continued to worsen during the last 20 years as blacks who felt empowered to serve their community during the civil rights movement of the 1960s have retired, but have been ineffective in passing the torch.

A U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit filed in 2008 also found the city’s hiring practices, such as job experience requirements, discriminated against minorities.

Nearly two years later, the diversity of both the fire and police departments has continued to decline as the city has been unable to hire candidates while spending nearly $600,000 to overhaul its testing, recruiting and hiring practices.

Of the more than 650 police and firefighters employed by the city, less than 40 are black, despite Dayton’s black population estimated at about 62,000.

Spencer said race doesn’t usually matter to people in need of emergency help, like his elderly patient in need of oxygen.

She made no mention of it and even thanked him through her oxygen mask. But Spencer and his fellow white firefighters at Company 18 said his presence at some tense scenes that involve black residents have helped defuse situations.

It’s hard for Spencer and others to pinpoint why more blacks aren’t firefighters.

Luckily the Justice Department sued Dayton and coerced them to hire more Black people. Dayton also instituted this plan to get more Black firefighters:

Hundreds of cities across the country have struggled to diversify their fire departments.

Columbus has 175 black firefighters out of a staff of 1,549. Akron has 57 blacks out of 344. In Cincinnati, which settled a diversity lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Justice, 250 of 850 firefighters in 2009 were black.
But it’s hard to find any major city with fewer black firefighters than Dayton. In a city with an estimated 62,000 black residents, just six of 300 firefighters are black, and one of those is Chief Herbert Redden.
This lack of diversity, which has worsened during the last 20 years, is one of the reasons the Justice Department forced the city to overhaul its recruitment, testing and hiring process.
The city will soon learn how effective that overhaul will be.
Monday is the deadline to apply to be a Dayton firefighter, marking an important step in the city’s ability to answer terms of the DOJ settlement.
Two significant changes should make diversifying the staff a little easier. As a result of the DOJ lawsuit, the city has abandoned its requirement that all applicants be certified firefighters. Also, the city no longer has a residency rule, which should greatly increase the pool of available black candidates.

Are we leaving out any cities? Oh, New York City and Chicago! That’s right. The Village Voice has an article on Black failures in New York City available here and Chicago’s story shall be told courtesy of The New York Times:

The City of Chicago must hire 111 black firefighter applicants who were passed over for jobs years ago and pay tens of millions of dollars in damages to about 6,000 other black candidates under a ruling issued on Friday by a federal appeals court.

The decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is only the latest in a legal battle that began with a written employment test for firefighters more than a decade ago, wound its way to the United States Supreme Court by last year and remains a matter of division and concern among the city’s firefighters.

“For some of the people involved, this is a very emotional moment,” said Joshua Karsh, a lawyer who represented black applicants who accused the city of employment discrimination. “The city could have cleared this up a long time ago.”

In 1995, 26,000 people took an employment test to become firefighters.

The city said anyone who had scored above 65 was considered “qualified,” but chose its initial hires from random sets among candidates who scored 89 or better, a group it deemed “highly qualified,” court documents say. 

Still uncertain on Friday was precisely how the court’s decision would be carried out. Among the 6,000 black candidates who sought jobs, 111 of them — it is unclear for the moment which ones — will be given jobs after receiving physical tests and training.
Those who do not seek the jobs will split back pay that would have gone to the 111 had they been hired years ago.

Jennifer Hoyle of the Chicago Department of Law estimated that cost to be $30 million.
Mr. Karsh said he expected that the amount would be larger.

The costs come at a difficult time for the city, where some people are predicting a budget shortfall in the hundreds of millions of dollars next year.

A spokesman for Rahm Emanuel, who is to be sworn in as mayor on Monday, declined to comment on the ruling.

Still, Ms. Hoyle said the costs could have been greater. As part of the city’s efforts before the appeals court, it prevailed on the notion that the hiring of 21 additional firefighters, something contemplated during the proceedings, was not justified.

Gregory Boggs, president of the African-American Firefighters and Paramedics League of Chicago, said that Friday’s decision was a victory, but that black firefighters still made up about only 18 percent of the force.

“All we’re asking for is to level out the playing field,” he said. “We waited 15 years on this, and we’re still not there.”

Disingenuous White Liberals (DWLs) will cling to the notion that firefighters exams are racially biased… in every city they are administered. That’s quite the conspiracy to keep Black people from fighting fires. In Black-Run America (BRA), Black failure can only be blamed on institutional racism. No other reason is tolerated.

Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes firefighter exams, the bane of every would-be Black firefighters existence. All across the country Black people aspiring to battle fires fail these tests (perhaps it time to blame the No. 2 pencil?) and sue the city so that merit is replaced with Black empowerment.

You can have standards that one must aspire to achieve or you can have diversity. You can have a nation where merit matters or you can have diversity.

You can have communities, companies and associations built upon trust and with a unified vision or you can have diversity, which is anathema to the concept of team-building.



Stuff Black People Don't Like (formerly SBPDL.com) has moved to SBPDL.net!
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s