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March 18, 2014 11:54 AM   Subscribe


 
Interesting to compare and contrast with Ricci v. DeStefano.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:06 PM on March 18


Man, from the FAQ, but also employment practices that appear to be fair in form but are discriminatory in operation .. That's, well, yeah.. The known-unknowns and the unknown-unknowns level of reduction.
posted by k5.user at 12:11 PM on March 18


Relatedly, firefighters appear to be grossly overpaid. (Short version: they get paid on par with police officers, even though police officers face much greater danger and work much harder.)
posted by grobstein at 12:13 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


$45,000 is not grossly overpaid
posted by Dmenet at 12:20 PM on March 18 [37 favorites]


Woah; looking at that fatality chart now I mostly want to know why is being a fisherman ten times as deadly as being a police officer?
posted by ook at 12:22 PM on March 18


looking at that fatality chart now I mostly want to know why is being a fisherman ten times as deadly as being a police officer?

Ever see Deadliest Catch?
posted by dirigibleman at 12:23 PM on March 18


why is being a fisherman ten times as deadly as being a police officer?

woosh
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 12:24 PM on March 18


Drowning, mostly.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 12:24 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


looking at that fatality chart now I mostly want to know why is being a fisherman ten times as deadly as being a police officer?

If a fireman's truck breaks down, he can walk home.
posted by Etrigan at 12:40 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


I think this relief order (PDF) from the underlying case may be helpful reading. You can also find copies of the "discriminatory" tests here (PDF).
posted by Vox Nihili at 12:43 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the drowning rate among police officers is surprisingly low.
posted by leotrotsky at 12:43 PM on March 18 [4 favorites]


They cover drowning at the Academy.
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 12:47 PM on March 18


You can also find copies of the "discriminatory" tests here (PDF).

Looking over the tests now, it doesn't appear to be discriminatory or not job-related. Was the only reason it was judged discriminatory the fact that minorities passed in lower numbers? I wonder if that had more to do with discriminatory school practices than discriminatory fire tests.
posted by corb at 12:48 PM on March 18


I was trying to explain all this to a non-NYC friend of mine while telling my anecdote of once running into drunk firefighters on the subway during my morning commute on St. Patrick's day.

He was all "How did you know they were firefighters?" and "OMG were they on duty WTF?????" and I just sort of vaguely handwaved about how, like, the FDNY is a Thing.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that in other cities, the fire department isn't a cabal, it's just a public sector kind of job you can have.
posted by Sara C. at 12:51 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


(Also, I am delighted and amused by the "If a fireman were on a tall ladder looking down at the roof, what picture would the fireman see" questions)
posted by corb at 12:52 PM on March 18


Some of the questions seemed related, but a lot of them seemed like weird reading comprehension stories with a firefighter theme instead of actual questions that might be useful.
posted by jeather at 12:53 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Looking over the tests now, it doesn't appear to be discriminatory or not job-related. Was the only reason it was judged discriminatory the fact that minorities passed in lower numbers? I wonder if that had more to do with discriminatory school practices than discriminatory fire tests.

What is an "unlawful disparate impact"?
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:53 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Short version: they get paid on par with police officers, even though police officers face much greater danger and work much harder.

On a daily basis this might be accurate, but when firefighters do face danger and work hard, it's nothing to be scoffed at. Also firefighters do a lot of emergency rescue (I have more than once watched them scrape the remains of a drunk driver from a wrecked car) and that - while not dangerous per se - is one hell of a way to make a living.
posted by three blind mice at 12:53 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Looking over the tests now, it doesn't appear to be discriminatory or not job-related.

One thing I noticed was the number of sections with instructions that said to use ONLY the material/instructions given to answer the following questions. How many of those questions were trick questions with answers requiring outside knowledge?

One of the issues facing the FDNY -- and I'm not sure if that's relevant to this particular discrimination case -- is that of nepotism and an extremely narrow in-group controlling who can join. It's possible that there are things that certain test takers are privy to, but out-group members are not. And it would be better if these shibboleths are well-hidden so that it's not immediately apparent to outsiders that this is happening.
posted by Sara C. at 1:11 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


corb: Looking over the tests now, it doesn't appear to be discriminatory or not job-related. Was the only reason it was judged discriminatory the fact that minorities passed in lower numbers? I wonder if that had more to do with discriminatory school practices than discriminatory fire tests.

That is exactly what the disparate impact provisions in Title VII are about, and also why they are so controversial; no less so since the judge instituted racial hiring quotas.

Stitcherbeast's link above is definitely worth a quick read. If the tests had the same disparate impact and they were related to testing candidates' potential skill as a firefighter, it wouldn't have been unlawful. Basically, FDNY gave a test that was entirely about geospatial reasoning, reading comprehension and memorization. Blacks and Hispanics failed it in disproportionate numbers, for whatever reason. The feds successfully argued that the test wasn't a good measurement of firefighting aptitude, and so: now NY/FDNY have to shell out $98 million for theoretical harm to some people who may have scored as low as 25% on that test.

I don't mean to come across as curmudgeonly, I just find disparate impact icky. It doesn't really do anything to address the causes of inequality, and instead very arbitrarily attacks the institutions where its symptoms are evident.

Does anyone have a link to the holding from the lower court stating exactly what the problems with the tests were? I can't find it.
posted by Vox Nihili at 1:18 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Oh, that's a really interesting take, Sara C, and I could kind of see it, maybe. I know that one of the accepted pieces of FDNY wisdom is that you can't get into the fire department unless you know somebody or are somebody's kid, but always assumed it was exaggerated. I could see something like casual "Advice" being to "Ignore blah, do blah, remember blah."
posted by corb at 1:18 PM on March 18


What you want (mentally) in a firefighter is the ability to understand directions, ability to learn how to use basic tools/operate power tools and the ability to work well in task-oriented groups. That implies basic literacy and a lack of major psychological issues. Many of the questions in the "discriminatory" test, on the other hand, seem to unnecessarily involve firefighting and could easily be confusing to someone not already familiar with the terminology.

The physical requirements, sometimes called "agility", mostly involve hauling and lifting and have also been used to keep out certain groups, mostly women due to their generally smaller physical size.

Ultimately, the only way to be sure that there's no discrimination is to hand the testing over to an independent third party but I don't see that ever happening.
posted by tommasz at 1:20 PM on March 18


One of the issues facing the FDNY -- and I'm not sure if that's relevant to this particular discrimination case -- is that of nepotism and an extremely narrow in-group controlling who can join. It's possible that there are things that certain test takers are privy to, but out-group members are not. And it would be better if these shibboleths are well-hidden so that it's not immediately apparent to outsiders that this is happening.

Judge Garufis' earlier decision is enlightening. It discusses the comments of firefighters and fire lieutenants who had reviewed the exam before it was used:
I feel all these questions are unfair. They have nothing to do with an entry-level exam.

No good. These questions should be used to help in a psychological profile of the applicant. They should not be used for an entrance exam.

This should not be part of the test. It is subjective.

Prior firehouse knowledge needed. Members/candidates with prior firehouse or fire ground knowledge will have a great unfair advantage compared to the general public.
The City ignored these comments, and now here we are.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:21 PM on March 18 [9 favorites]


Short version: they get paid on par with police officers, even though police officers face much greater danger and work much harder.

Though it's important to remember that the risk that cops face is overwhelmingly just that they drive a lot or stand next to highways like construction workers do. Risks from interactions with (actual or alleged) criminals are minimal.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:22 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


Relatedly, firefighters appear to be grossly overpaid.

If only our society paid athletes and movie stars what they were wor— HEY WAIT A MINUTE WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO PULL!?
posted by yerfatma at 1:27 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


Risks from criminals are perhaps less predictable and controllable via standard operating procedures.

Seems to me police and firefighters are about even with regard to danger and effort. Each is equipped for and trained to handle life safety risks that the other isn't.
posted by maniabug at 1:27 PM on March 18


the drowning rate among police officers is surprisingly low.

Yes yes, ha ha. But apparently the "getting shot by criminals or run over by cars" rate among police officers is even more surprisingly low.

I know that chart wasn't the point of the thread so I'll stop harping on it but I'm honestly amazed at how safe policing (and firefighting) turns out to be compared to mundane industrial jobs, and how poorly the salaries match up to the risk and difficulty of pretty much any of the jobs on that list.
posted by ook at 1:27 PM on March 18


Prior firehouse knowledge needed. Members/candidates with prior firehouse or fire ground knowledge will have a great unfair advantage compared to the general public.

I especially thought this for the questions about which street a building's "front entrance" is on, which street the fire escapes face, how many fire hydrants there are, etc. Yes, there's clearly some kind of photograph or diorama applicants were asked to memorize, but it seems like it would be easier to memorize these particular bits of information if you already know what you're looking for, or already have certain facts about how buildings and streets in NYC are typically set up.
posted by Sara C. at 1:37 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


I thought it was openly acknowledged that prior fire fighting experience was required/ highly recommended for those looking to get a job with a big urban department these days? Is the problem that they didn't explicitly state that?

.Short version: they get paid on par with police officers, even though police officers face much greater danger and work much harder.

Fire fighters are exposed to all kinds of nasty shit in fires though. Not very many of them live healthily into old age. They really are not overpaid. I don't think any public servants have ever been over paid in the history of ever.

As far as stats go, fishermen often die en masse when a boat sinks which firemen rarely do anymore. So a single accident kills more people more often in that industry. Also fishermen are doing potentially dangerous work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week when they're fishing. Statistically they just spend a lot more time in the Oops zone than most other people.
posted by fshgrl at 1:42 PM on March 18


It's easy to get into a pissing contest about who is overpaid. As a computer technician when I lived in NYC I made twice what a firefighter there makes. Having later become a volunteer FF in a quiet rural area, I readily acknowledge the injustice of that pay discrepancy. I'd be fine with NYC somehow moving the average income of its public employees much closer to that of its advertising/executive/rentier types.

I also think a decent pay level even further obligates the city to make those jobs accessible to everyone.
posted by maniabug at 2:01 PM on March 18 [6 favorites]


I'd be fine with NYC somehow moving the average income of its public employees much closer to that of its advertising/executive/rentier types.

Which would probably have the effect of helping some of the diversity issues the FDNY suffers from. Right now, the relatively low pay means that people are likely to become firefighters for reasons other than money, live in certain specific outer borough communities, have nearby community resources to fall back on to make up for relatively low initial pay, etc.

You have to wonder if it's a bit of a self-selecting thing. Working class Irish-American young men apply to the FDNY because it's seen as a viable life choice, whereas there's no real draw for people outside that particular background.
posted by Sara C. at 2:09 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


I only gave the test a cursory glance, but for all intents and purposes, it looks like a reading comprehension test (and a long one.) That is probably not only unfair in the effect, but also in the intent. The heavy load on reading is probably irrelevant to the job and is only on the test because it does a fairly good job in discriminating candidates out (hence the intent...)
posted by borges at 2:26 PM on March 18


I just read through the test. It reads like a SAT booklet obsessed with fires. Well, the questions that were not about what you would see looking down or from outside, etc.
posted by Hactar at 3:08 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


You're right Hactar, there is a fair amount of spatial reasoning as well; those are probably a little more relevant than the reading comp.
posted by borges at 3:25 PM on March 18


My brother inlaw is a firefighter in the City of St. Louis. He's still a private (there's some weird military title thing). He makes 46k a year, working an average of 56 hours a week. That's 16/hr for what is often tedious and sometimes hella dangerous. Rare is a night that he gets to sleep - there are plenty of medical calls. They all look forward to actual fires rather than yet another "I don't have a car and 911 is the only way to get into the ER" call.

He ain't overpaid.
posted by notsnot at 3:32 PM on March 18 [3 favorites]


In discussing compensation, let us not forget overtime, which in NYC at least is something of a cruel practical joke on the tax payer.

Of course, this suit did not help.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:03 PM on March 18


The heavy load on reading is probably irrelevant to the job

Right, it's all brave muscular hauling of unconscious victims out of blazes, suitable to the dullwitted lower class male, no use and maintenance of complex equipment with instruction manuals, use of written communications, or study of thick textbooks on firefighting techniques.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:01 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Risks from criminals are perhaps less predictable and controllable via standard operating procedures.

But still very low.

In 2013 33 of the US's 794,000 law enforcement officers were murdered by firearms. Doing back of the envelope math, the risk of police officers being murdered by firearm in 2013 was actually slightly lower than the risk of firearm murder among the general public aged 18-65. 2013 was a very good year, but even in what was reported as a bad year cops' risk of firearm murder is no more than about twice as high as the very low risk faced by the general working-age public.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:25 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


The dangers police and fire face don't often end in dying. But, and I'm talking about the community oriented type of officers -- not the hyper-militarized ones we see in the news so often, these officers and fire fighters who are also EMTs are not infrequently punched, kicked, head-butted, pushed, cursed at, bit, vomited on, spit on, bled on, and in danger of needle sticks. They earn their money.
posted by 1066 at 6:56 PM on March 18 [2 favorites]


Hi. Firefighter Sara checking in. I don't want this to become a pissing match about wages, because I'm not going to tell you about what I've seen and done in the past 7 years as a professional firefighter as some people don't need to know the details.

But we aren't overpaid. Far from it.

I used to make $9.63 per hour. At a decent-sized municipal department. After 5 years. And I have a B.S. from an accredited brick-and-mortar university and a host of other certifications and training relevant to my profession. Recently, I took a position with a different municipal department for a pay raise. To $12.40 an hour.

I did not get into this job to make money. They tell you that when you start; you want money...there's the door. Go start a business, find a job in the private sector, walmart's hiring, etc.

I spent my day off today in class. For my job. Not because my captain or my chief told me I had to be there, but for MY personal development and that of MY department. I didn't get paid. Today I didn't go to one of my other three jobs I work to pay my mortgage on my 1200 sq ft house and keep the heat at 68 at my house, and with my pay raise, this is the first winter I've been able to do that. I'm 30, btw.

I'm not going to sit here and tell you about the bloated dead bodies, or the dead children I've held, or the pools of blood I've cleaned up, or the eviscerated corpses, or all the whatevers I've seen. Or tell you about my brothers and sisters who've been hurt or killed in the line of duty. Or tell you about the nightmares I have on a weekly, and sometimes nightly, basis. Nor will I complain about my tinnitus, or how much my left shoulder always hurts no matter how much ibuprofen I take, or how my insomnia is acting up again because I don't have a regular sleep schedule.

I didn't take this job for a paycheck. I took this job because god or FSM or whatever is up there called me to do it, and I've known I've wanted to do it since I was a little kid. It's why I'm on this earth. Your worst day is the day I have to be my best.

There are rewards. I love the brotherhood. I love my job. I love showing little kids MY firetruck.

But when I work multiple jobs to have a decent standard of living, and so do my brothers and sisters...please don't insult us.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 8:35 PM on March 18 [16 favorites]


But when I work multiple jobs to have a decent standard of living, and so do my brothers and sisters...please don't insult us.

A full time firefighter in the United States should not have to work a second, let alone third job, to hold down a reasonably basic standard of living in the community he/she serves.
posted by zachlipton at 8:59 PM on March 18 [1 favorite]


don't want this to become a pissing match about wages

...so isn't the logical next step to wonder why such a relatively underpaid job requires such a moat of nepotism and corruption?
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 5:40 AM on March 19


Just because firefighters generally might not get the pay they deserve doesn't mean that FDNY is particularly underpaid. Firefighter pay in FDNY after five years is $76488 or $38/hr assuming 2000 hrs/year. So they're getting three times what sara is getting or 150% of NYC median household income.

Which isn't to say that they're overpaid, because that doesn't seem at all unreasonable especially given NYC COL, but would at least imply that they're not underpaid.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:35 AM on March 19 [2 favorites]


...so isn't the logical next step to wonder why such a relatively underpaid job requires such a moat of nepotism and corruption?

Because for some it's a family, and for some it's a job, and they want to sort out the people who just want a job, and keep only the people who view it as a calling/loyalty/family.
posted by corb at 6:35 AM on March 19


...why such a relatively underpaid job requires such a moat of nepotism and corruption

That's an interesting question, and a good next step for inquiry. I suspect the answer is complex and multi-faceted.

Human beings are inherently tribal, and especially so in the face of risk. Risk is the context under which that behavior evolved. (Perhaps it's not evolution exactly, but certainly a behavior that is selected for or otherwise rewarded across many cultures.) It's easier for people to trust members of their own in-group in the face of threat, so the nature of emergency services work may foster tribalism to a higher degree than some other sectors.

While tribalism is functional on some level, it can conflict with the legitimate value of egalitarianism. An egalitarian culture attempts to limit tribalism so it does not become unduly destructive.

A related question is why has the tribal tendency been able to thrive in such a visible public institution as FDNY? Maybe some answers to that can come from the socioeconomic history. Firefighting as a profession has emerged during a time when most people in our culture have been upwardly mobile, abandoning physically diffcult and dangerous work with compensation that is stable but low-growth in favor of jobs in business, media, law, et. al. During this period, white collar work has offered (unsustainably as we are discovering) more affluence and social status than manual labor.

I think affirmative action (tribe-busting), itself a practice that has emerged during the same slice of history, has tended to focus more on the higher status industries because more people throughout the strata of our society have been motivated to pursue white collar work. The history of AA and other anti-discrimination initiatives probably offers further insight into the matter, but I'd guess the allocation of various minority groups to specific low-status industries has been achieved more through demographics and economics than through public policy.

I'm no anthropologist and could well be wrong about some of this, but I do think a real answer to REH's question has some nuance to it.
posted by maniabug at 6:44 AM on March 19 [3 favorites]


My understanding is that the FDNY is the way it is for complicated historical reasons, and not anything like "humans are inherently tribal".

Keep in mind we're talking about a city where the whole concept of fire control started as a gangster's racket.

I also see it as tied in with New York City's general obsession with ethnicity/nationality and tendency to see certain jobs as "for" people of particular backgrounds. This is a city where deli owners are either Korean or Yemeni, while diner proprietors are invariably Greek. I mean What The Fuck. It's writ large in the FDNY because it's a city agency and this should really not be a thing in 21st century America. But ultimately it's really just a symptom of a particular kind of New York mentality.
posted by Sara C. at 7:44 AM on March 19


Sure, I agree. I consider that mentality to be tied in with what I refer to as tribalism. And by talking about tribalism in a neutral tone, I don't mean to endorse it. FDNY's specific history would of course have a lot to do with it, but I'm not well informed about that.

The fire service has certainly come a long way within a society that has been and continues to be in flux. Fire companies fortunately don't fight with each other on doorsteps these days. Recent instances outside NYC where agencies have refused to serve addresses not covered by payment arrangements suggests the history hasn't suddenly become simple, though, and the interaction between professional and volunteer agencies has its own ongoing issues that vary somewhat by region.
posted by maniabug at 8:05 AM on March 19


> they get paid on par with police officers, even though police officers face much greater danger and work much harder.

Meh. Jobs should pay a market rate. The difference in pay suggests it's cheaper to pay people to do a good job at firefighting because it has about $10,000-worth more in compensating benefits than police work. Assuming that they draw from the same pool of people seeking work, police work means putting up with more crap. Firefighters also may do less work hour to hour, but they're on call to a greater degree than cops, and live away from their homes for several days a week. Firefighters also have weird cost-savings relating to that, such as community meals that might just be covered by the FD, less wear and energy spending at home. Does it add up to $10,000? On average, it just might.
posted by Sunburnt at 9:26 AM on March 19


I consider that mentality to be tied in with what I refer to as tribalism.

Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you think this is a good thing, or are trying to excuse it, or whatever.

It's just that the specific case of the FDNY goes way beyond anything you could call an innate thing in humans.

I currently live in Los Angeles. I couldn't tell you what the ethnic makeup of our fire department is like. And there's no way I'd settle on "most LA firefighters are Armenian, and the Armenian community only begrudgingly allows people of other nationalities to join," if I had to spitball about it. Because that's fucking crazy.

And yet in New York, that's exactly what the FDNY is.
posted by Sara C. at 9:44 AM on March 19


No, the department doesn't cover food. Or newspapers. Or digital cable or residential internet.

Some departments don't have dishwashers. Or washing machines and dryers. So yeah, I took my nasty-ass uniforms home with me and washed them in my personal washing machine.

We get a bed and a shower (some volly houses don't have those, either), electricity, and a place to cook meals and study. That's not an offset. I still have to pay my utility bills, and I'm still away from my family and friends and house for over 72 hours per week.

Please don't assume that we get special treatment. You'd be surprised at how many municipalities think they can get away with disbanding fire services.

But they don't remember that we don't just extinguish fires. We are all at least EMT Basics, Hazmat Operators (some are Techs and Specialists), SWAT Medics, Divers, water and ocean rescue, High Angle Rescue Techs, Trench Techs, Confined Space, etc. We also perform fire prevention inspections, install smoke alarms and batteries in neighborhoods regardless of SES, conduct fire alarms, instruct in the proper use of fire extinguishers, and teach fire and water safety.

We maintain a presence in the communities where the cops don't want to be; people will talk to us and approach us because we are NOT cops.

I don't mean to be fighty, but a lot of people really don't understand the job, and it's not a job. It's my life and my livelihood. I don't disrespect CEOs, or computer techs, or cashiers at the grocery store, and I sure as hell don't know anything about their jobs and it's not right for me to assume things. I will defend the brotherhood until I die, and I will continue to clear up any misconceptions and will educate civilians in regards to the fire service to the best of my ability.

FDNY is weird. They're their own little anomaly, and while we all look up to them, it's not the same everywhere. And FDNY guys have it hard; there is a reason they have 20 year retirement and you have to be young and in good shape to get on - FDNY is tough and I don't even know if I could have ever made it. I am a damn good fireman, but they're a different breed.
posted by sara is disenchanted at 11:24 AM on March 19 [5 favorites]


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