August 25, 2015
By Joe Maniscalco
New York, NY – Efforts to diversify the ranks of the FDNY through the use of a newly revived cadet training program are meeting with resistance this week from labor groups concerned that the strategy is flawed and susceptible to abuse.
According to the Daily News, a proposed Cadet Program could pave the way for as many as 100 high school students — with a certain number reserved for minority groups — to become two-year firefighter trainees.
The effort is intended to address the chronically low number of women and people of color currently working for the FDNY.
Last December, LaborPress specifically reported on the stunning lack of women firefighters as compared to other major American cities. Only 45 of New York City’s 10,500 firefighters, are female.
On Monday, Sarinya Srisakul, head of United Women Firefighters, testified in favor of bringing back the Cadet Program.
“Eleven percent of the women firefighters who work in the FDNY today came from the former FDNY Cadet Program that was only in effect for a few years,” Srisakul said in a statement. “The number of women firefighters in NYC would have an even greater boost if the Cadet Program were an ongoing one.”
Tracy Lewis, only the second African-American woman to ever achieve the rank of FDNY lieutenant, provided a written statement also attesting to the Cadet Program’s efficacy.
“This was a great opportunity for me to learn about fire science, nutrition and other information I wasn’t exposed to,” Lewis said in a statement. “I became an EMT through the program, then had the opportunity to become a firefighter. I then took the promotional test and became a lieutenant. In fact, there are a number of cadets who took the same path as me and many who even went beyond and became captains.”
Kinga Kusek took part in a Cadet Program back in 2000, and soon encouraged sister Daiana Mielnik to follow suit. The siblings ultimately became the first sisters to ever work as FDNY firefighters.
Those advances are modest, however, and Srisakul further argued that female roll models remain virtually invisible.
“The low number of women firefighters in NYC is a real problem that has been going on far too long,” Srisakul said.
FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro supports resuscitating the Cadet Program, but the unions representing firefighters warn that the measure turned into a patronage mill in the past, and could do so again.
On Monday, New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez also spoke out against efforts to eliminate competitive examinations in FDNY recruitment.
"While we all agree that increasing diversity in certain civil service jobs is a necessary goal, eliminating the open, competitive examinations that are an integral part of a credible civil service system is the wrong approach,” Alvarez said in a statement. "These open, competitive exams have produced the nation's most skilled municipal workforce, and it is imperative that we maintain this transparent system, while also expanding outreach and initiating recruitment programs reach to underrepresented groups.”
Despite the misgivings, Srisakul said that programs like the Cadet Program help break down the barrier to becoming a firefighter for women by "exposing them to job demands, educating them, mentoring them and building their self-esteem."