(From the Wall Street Journal) NEW YORK — Paul Washington is a New York City firefighter, like his dad and his uncle before him. His brother is also on the job. Some of his cousins are firefighters, too.
Family legacies aren't unusual in the Fire Department of New York, but the Washingtons are — because they are black. And the nation's largest fire department remains an overwhelmingly white force.
But a federal lawsuit, a court order and a revamped application system are offering a glimmer of a future in which the FDNY could become as diverse as the population it serves — a goal other big-city departments have already achieved.
In a city of 8 million where more than half the population belongs to a racial or ethnic minority, only 9 percent of the 11,200 uniformed firefighters are black or Hispanic.
"This is New York City," said Washington, the catalyst for a federal hiring-discrimination lawsuit against the city. "We're the most diverse, interesting place in the world, and our other city agencies reflect that, so why shouldn't the Fire Department?"
No new firefighters are being hired for the FDNY until a test deemed discriminatory by a federal judge can be redone. In the meantime, the department is paying overtime to bridge a gap of about 300 firefighters. Potential candidates wait, taking other jobs in the meantime.