For the Record

Chief Leader - October 17, 2006

The Fire Department will extend its filing period for the upcoming Firefighter exam by three weeks - through Nov. 3 - in an effort to increase its minority and other applicants, Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said at an Oct. 16 press conference.

The FDNY also announced that it has adopted a new physical exam designed by a national task force that grades candidates' overall performance on a pass/ fail basis.

'We Can Do Better'

"This year we have conducted an unprecedented recruitment effort, resulting in 11,904 applicants, of which 31.2 percent are minorities," said Commissioner Scoppetta, when asked why the FDNY prolonged filing. "This is extremely encouraging, but we believe we can do better." He said extensions were common due to the typical last-minute flurry of applications.

Four years ago, the last time filing for the exam was open, the FDNY received 20,000 applications after an extension.

Uniformed Firefighters' Association President Stephen J. Cassidy suggested that the slashed starting salary for new hires - $25,100 for 13 weeks of training before jumping to $32,700 - was a factor in the low turnout.

He was also critical of the department's decision to make the physical exam pass/ fail.

'Must Attract the Fittest'

"In a job that is incredibly physically demanding, a pass/ fail physical exam is just wrong. We should be attracting the most physically fit candidates and can do that by numerically grading them," he stated.

The Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) requires applicants to navigate a series of job-specific tasks and complete them all within 10 minutes and 20 seconds.

The CPAT was developed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Department of Justice, 10 major Fire Departments in the U.S. and Canada (including the FDNY) and with the input of professional firefighters and Fire Chiefs. It involves many of the same elements as the old test, but is designed as a circuit, moving candidates from one element to the next without a break in between.

'Job-Related, Demanding'

"It is a very job-related test. I've witnessed it myself," said Chief of Department Salvatore Cassano. "It's nationally recognized, very fair, and very demanding."

Martha Hirst, Commissioner of the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, which is responsible for developing the city's civil-service exams, said new research had spurred the change.

"DCAS is responsible for developing tests and in doing our research, discovery and validation we realized the CPAT is the most rigorous, job-related exam we could give," she said. "It does not make (the physical exam) easier."

Uniformed Fire Officers' Association Peter L. Gorman was pleased the department adopted CPAT.

"The test has a lot more structure to it and it has been successful in getting more qualified women in particular on to the job," he said. "We embrace diversity in the department, but at the same time, as a union we exist to maintain standards, and this is a way to do both."

Backed by Vulcans

Fire Capt. Paul Washington, president of the Vulcan Society and a long-time critic of the FDNY's hiring process who filed a lawsuit to change how the department's written exam is graded, stood next to Commissioner Scoppetta during the press conference. He later urged black and Latino candidates to take advantage of the extended filing period, noting that "this is a great job with great benefits, and one that black residents of this city need to know that they can achieve."

FDNY figures show that of the 11,904 applicants received by the original filing cut-off date, 1,038 were from blacks. Three hundred and thirteen were from women, more than 10 times the number of females currently on the force. Nearly 1,600 were from Latinos. Another 2,000 applicants didn't indicate gender or ethnicity.