Posted on May 12, 2014

City’s New Fire Commissioner Vows a Push for More Minorities in the Department

Michael Schwirtz, New York Times, May 10, 2014

The new commissioner of the New York Fire Department vowed on Friday to put an end to an era of lawsuits and court orders over the department’s persistent lack of diversity and to lead an effort to attract more minorities.

The commissioner, Daniel A. Nigro, a 33-year veteran of the department who retired a year after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, was officially appointed in a ceremony at the department’s training academy on Randalls Island.

Flanked by diverse members of the newest class of recruits, Mr. Nigro, 65, described expanding diversity in the department, whose members are still about 87 percent white, as “a great challenge,” but one he would actively pursue.

“We must no longer wait for a judge’s ruling to tell us what fairness means,” he said. “We must get out front. We must point the way to change.”

Years of legal wrangling over the racial makeup of the department have led to a series of reforms in recent years, including a court-appointed monitor, a new entrance exam and an influx of recruiters into black and Hispanic neighborhoods.

In March, that legal battle came to an end, when the city agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by the Vulcan Society, an African-American firefighters’ group, and pay $100 million in back wages and benefits to minorities thwarted from joining the department by what courts have ruled to be institutional biases.

As part of the agreement, Mr. Nigro (pronounced NY-grow), in his new capacity, will oversee the selection of a chief of diversity and inclusion, who will act as a kind of internal monitor on issues of diversity and discrimination.

{snip} Mr. Nigro, who is white, grew up in Bayside, Queens, and like many in the department, is the son of a firefighter. {snip}

Brenda Berkman, who was among the first women to join the department following a series of legal battles in the late 1970s and early ’80s, said the mayor and new fire commissioner “need to take strong and immediate measures to end discrimination against women in the F.D.N.Y. that has been going on far too long.”

Ms. Berkman, who remains an advocate for female firefighters, said that with 37 women currently in the Fire Department ranks, there are fewer today than when she joined in the early 1980s.