Sunday, August 16, 2015

A Last (From Me) Word ABOUT Those Recent FDNY “Leaks”

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Every age has its atmosphere and its challenges.

My father spent most of his time in Brooklyn (Engine 201 as a firefighter, Ladder 107 as a Captain, Battalion 44 as a B.C.). Most of the guys of that era were military vets, mostly WW II and Korea. They were a breed apart.

A great guy and excellent firefighter I was fortunate to have worked with in the South Bronx, Mike Finer, called the guys of the 1980s, “the last American cowboys.” These guys often “rode the aerial,” or “rode in the (Tower Ladder’s) bucket.” They routinely took risks that are forbidden today, but if they were “the last American cowboys,” then the previous generation were the REAL DEAL...the FDNY’s original cowboys - men like Hank Fifield, Tom Neary and Jack Cleary among others.

Both groups “always got the job.” I always knew...I could just “feel it in my bones,” that each successive generation was lesser than the one before. While my grandparents were completely self-sufficient (my maternal grandfather built a house with one other friend). My Dad grew up during the Great Depression, slogged through the Pacific in WW II, spent some time in the Korean War and got on the FDNY in January of 1953. That was a harder, tougher generation than any that came after.

The rest of us successive generations have been raised in a time when America was unthreatened as the preeminent world power, in an age of relative peace and plenty.

For a whole host of reasons the FDNY has remained predominantly white. Of course, much LESS so than has the Department of Corrections remained predominantly black. In fact, NO city agencies look much like New York City and at least 7 other city agencies are more ethnically imbalanced than the FDNY.

Still, the FDNY became a target, just as those other agencies WILL become targets as this city becomes even more Asian and Hispanic and less black.

For whatever reasons, mostly, I suspect, because it’s the quicker, easier path, the diversity advocates have chosen to lower both the entrance standards (BOTH cognitive and physical) AND those of the Fire Academy.

As I’ve said before, the advocates for that SHOULD NOT be embarrassed by any of that. Own it! Proudly proclaim the view that “We feel that many of these standards were arbitrarily and unnecessarily high and we DON’T feel that altering them will diminish the quality of the FDNY’s workforce.” They have every right to defend that view.

The fact that the advocates of that view haven’t done that...haven’t “owned it,” says a lot about their own suspicions that that may not be the case.

I didn’t and still don’t think any of the recent “leaks” were all that embarrassing. First, they gave the Department the opportunity to defend the view that the previous standards were “arbitrarily and unnecessarily high,” and that the Department was following the tradition of taking care of troubled members in times of need.

Even though I disagree with the first viewpoint (I think the existing standards have been far too low, for far too long), I have to agree with the second...this Department HAS always taken care of problem or “troubled” members, often by “cashing them out” (putting them out on questionable disabilities). It’s happened...many times. I don't believe I'm "telling tales out of school" on that score.

The real problems won’t immediately occur, but if/when they do, I fervently hope that whatever administration is in Office DOES NOT succumb to the natural proclivity to hide the errors that may result in such tragedies.

I’m referring to incidents like the one that occurred in Philadelphia last December that killed firefighter Joyce Craig (

Short of such disasters, nothing else should be seen as anything less than an opportunity for “diversity first” advocates to make their case. NONE of those previous “leaks” really undermined the City’s efforts to alter the existing standards. In fact, they each offered opportunities for diversity advocates to make their case to the public.

There’s no reason for them not to and they have every right to make such a case. In fact, it's an important case to make.

As I’ve long said, I am absolutely certain that the standards of the FDNY were NOT the reason for that Department’s lack of ethnic diversity (gender diversity in that Department is an entirely different matter), any more than the standards at the Department of Corrections are the reason for the even more pronounced lack of diversity there. The face, or complexion of the existing workforce becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just as many Asians, blacks and Hispanics may not have felt welcome just looking at the FDNY’s complexion, many Asians, Hispanics and whites can’t feel welcome when looking at the existing workforce of the Department of Corrections.

All that proves is that this diversification process still has a long way to go and that down the road some groups that have been favored, will eventually become disfavored. All of that is what it is. Time moves on and things change.

Ultimately, “the proof is in the pudding,” as they say. So long as people who are fully dedicated to the craft of firefighting continue to predominate in that job, the workforce will almost certainly be OK. After all, there have always been “problem children” and “troubled members,” or members who develop problems over time. So long as the core remains strong, dedicated and high caliber, the Department will be fine.
Will this experiment succeed, or will it fail?

Who knows? I certainly don’t and I don’t believe anyone else can know either.

We will all see in time.

There will be...there MUST BE more “leaks” IF an incident like the one that killed FF. Joyce Craig should ever happen here. THAT is something the public will NEED to know about and have every right to know. In other words, we must be able to honestly assess the workability of the new standards once they’ve been in place for awhile and the workplace has been altered.

But all of that is further down the road. An honest assessment is all that’s required, so that a proper determination can be way or the other.

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