The FDNY is marking 150 years of service and black firefighters are marking 75 years of trying to increase diversity within its ranks. NY1's Cheryl Wills filed the following report.
Regina Wilson has become an icon in the FDNY. The multi-talented 45-year-old has been a firefighter for 16 years and as the first black woman at Engine 219 Ladder 105 in Park Slope she is a trailblazer in her own right.
Wilson got glammed up for the 75th Anniversary of the Vulcan Society - the fraternal organization of black firefighters. She is the group's first woman president and during the recent gathering of black firefighters she paid homage to Wesley Williams, the founder of the Vulcans who was tormented when he integrated the all-white modern FDNY in 1919.
"He experienced some horrendous things that happened to him in the firehouse with, from having to deal with black beds, eating separately from people he worked with," says Wilson.
The slow integration of the FDNY from Wesley Williams until now is the focus of a new book, "FIRE-FIGHT: The Century Long Battle to Integrate New York's Bravest."
New York Daily News reporter and author Ginger Adams Otis has been reporting on the bitter legal battles over entrance exams in the FDNY for more than a decade.
"One of the biggest misconceptions is that blacks fail the exam and they want this special treatment - this second chance because they failed the exam," said Otis. "A lot of them didn't fail it - they just didn't score high enough. And then you get to the crux of the matter. Blacks being weeded out by a test that's not really testing for the job."
After years of legal battles, the city settled the case last year, accepting reforms to further increase the department's diversity. But it's anything but a happy ending.
In part two of this special report, we'll hear what veteran firefighters have to say.