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Critics Give New FDNY Entrance Test A Passing Grade

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After a heated court battle over its testing of new recruits, the New York City Fire Department is asking a federal judge for the go-ahead to hire more firefighters.

The city says it developed a new test in conjunction with the Department of Justice and the Vulcan Society, a fraternal order of black firefighters.

It all stems from lawsuits filed by the Vulcan Society claiming the fire department entrance exams discriminated against minorities.

It took a year-and-a-half for a test development company called PSI, a court-appointed special master and others to write up the new fire exam. Then, more than 40,000 candidates took it in March and April.

"I'm actually pretty excited about that they want to expedite the process because usually the process takes a lot longer," said Lawrence White, who took the new test.

The City Law Department says of the 9,417 applicants with the best scores, 53.5 percent are white, 19.7 percent are black, 22.6 percent are Hispanic and 3.7 percent are Asian. The city says the numbers roughly match up with the ethnic makeup of the test takers.

42.3 percent of all black and Hispanic applicants who took the department's revamped test scored a 97 percent or higher, according to fire officials.

The Vulcan Society says it agrees the city can move forward with these results, though they think the city can do better.

"We are quite pleased with how the test has been formulated," said John Coombs with the Vulcan Society. "We're pleased with the outcome of the exam. This exam, unlike past exams, would less than likely be a discriminatory exam."

There are also firefighters represented by the group Merit Matters who think the new test moves in the wrong direction.

"The premise is they can predict what kind of employee someone is going to be based on their answers to certain questions," said Paul Mannix of Merit Matters. "I reject that premise outright."

In a statement, the New York City Law Department disagreed.

"PSI has developed a test which is designed to measure the skills and abilities necessary to succeed as a firefighter. The Fire Department remains committed to increasing diversity in its ranks," the City Law Department said, in part, in a statement.

"We hope Judge [Nicholas] Garaufis approves the exam soon as quickly as possible, so that the City can move swiftly to replenish the Fire Department with new firefighters," the City Law Department's statement goes on to say.

The city expects to use the new test for four years. EMTs and paramedics looking for promotions will get first crack.

The FDNY has not been able to hire any new firefighters since 2008, when a federal judge ruled its entry tests were biased against minorities.

Currently, blacks and Latinos make up just 9 percent of the FDNY.

There is no word on when the judge will rule on the request.

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