Black firefighters file discrimination complaint against FDNY

October 10, 2002, 7:00 AM EDT

NEW YORK (AP) _ A fraternal group that represents several hundred black firefighters has accused the Fire Department of New York of discriminating against African-Americans in hiring and promotions, a published report said.

The Vulcan Society filed the complaint in August with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Newsday reported in its Thursday editions.

"Basically, it's against the Fire Department _ everything from recruitment to promotions to background investigations of job applicants," Capt. Paul Washington, president of the society, told the paper.

A spokesman for the commission declined to comment, saying complaints remain confidential until the agency files a lawsuit.

The Fire Department said it would "vigorously" fight the complaint.

"We strongly disagree with the premise of the case. The department does not engage in discrimination," said Frank Gribbon, a spokesman for the fire department.

The 11,500-member Fire Department, which is 90 percent white males, has been trying to recruit minorities for the entrance exam it will give later this year. African-Americans currently make up 3 percent of the 11,500-member department, Latinos and Asians comprise 2.7 percent and women account for less than half a percent.

But some minority groups have complained that the department's $2.7 million recruitment campaign, "Heroes Wanted," has failed to drum up interest among women, African Americans, Latinos and Asians, Newsday reported.

Although overall applications dropped sharply from 23,000, when the exam was last given in 1990, to 7,500 this year, representatives of minority groups said that a mere 24 percent of the applicants were people of color or women.

"That means, based on their current numbers, we will have the same percentage coming on the job that now exists," Washington said.

Capt. Brenda Berkman, president of United Women Firefighters, said the FDNY lags behind fire departments around the country when it comes to promoting diversity. She noted that Birmingham, Alabama's 600-member fire department has 25 women, the same as in New York City.

Gribbon defended the recruitment strategy, noting that the department sought candidates at local colleges, black churches and events attended largely by minorities.