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Next year, for the first time ever, the FDNY’s age-eligible fire protection inspectors and fire alarm dispatchers will be able to take the promotional civil service exam and get a chance at becoming a firefighter.
The promotional test, which has been offered in the two decades since the city’s emergency medical services merged with the FDNY, has typically been open only to the members of EMS, hundreds of whom have made the switch to firefighting in that period.
But for the scheduled May 13, 2024, exam, for which the filing window is open through Nov. 21, eligibility was expanded by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services to several other titles, among them fire protection inspector, associate fire protection inspector, fire alarm dispatcher and supervising fire alarm dispatcher positions.
Fire protection inspectors and leadership of the union representing the inspectors have long called for the FDNY and DCAS to open a direct pathway to firefighting positions for inspectors, and now it appears those pleas have been heeded.
“It’s about time that this happened,” said Darryl Chalmers, a retired deputy chief fire inspector who sits on the executive board of District Council 37’s Local 2507, which represents fire inspectors and EMS workers. “This is something we have been fighting for for more than 20 years since EMS got the right.”
Fear thinning ranks
Chalmers said that inspectors looking to become firefighters in the past took the open competitive exam for firefighters, a test that has a lot more takers and typically requires a far higher score to pass than the FDNY’s promotional exam. With the avenue now opened up, he is hopeful that more young people will join the ranks of fire protection inspectors to bolster what he said is an aging workforce.
“In the future, a lot of people can become firefighters through fire prevention,” Chalmers said, adding that pulling from the ranks of fire protection inspector could help diversify the ranks of firefighters since 70 percent of inspectors are people of color.
An FDNY spokesperson said that the department was grateful that DCAS expanded the eligibility for the promotional exam which will grow the department's hiring pool and open up career opportunities for FDNY members. The department has been looking to add promotional pathways for its members for a while, the spokesperson said.
But Faye Smyth, the president of the Uniformed Fire Alarm Dispatchers Benevolent Association, said opening up the promotional exam to inspectors will reduce the ranks of already thin titles.
Smyth said on Monday that no one consulted her or the union before DCAS expanded the exam’s eligibility. “We already have a manpower and retention issues, and they just made it worse,” said Smyth, noting that the service is below its budgeted headcount by around 50 people. She added that because of manpower issues more members have been working increased amounts of overtime to make sure calls get picked up and units get dispatched.
But because of looming budget cuts, some dispatchers are having their requests to work more overtime denied, Smyth said, leading to some shifts going unfilled. “We are consistently working down people,” Smyth said. “Without a doubt this will affect response times and have an effect on the public.”
The union leader said that allowing dispatchers to depart the service and become firefighters would exacerbate the issues that the FDNY’s dispatching service is facing, and she argued that people would now apply to become dispatchers just so that they could use the job as a “stepping stone,” to become firefighters. “People will be taking this job just to leave it a few years later, just like in EMS,” she said.
About 1,100 members of FDNY EMS took the most recent promotional exam, in 2016, to become firefighters and 900 passed and became firefighters. Leadership of both unions representing EMS workers have articulated similar frustrations as Smyth has, saying that many members of FDNY EMS use the service as a stepping stone to become firefighters.
Earlier this year, Vincent Variale, the president of DC 37’s Local 3621, the EMS officers’ union, said that allowing more members of the EMS service to join the Bravest would “decimate the EMS rank and file.” Variale did not support the recent decision to create a one-time waiver for members of FDNY EMS who could have taken 2020's canceled firefighter promotional exam but who have since aged out of eligibility to take the upcoming test.
More than 300 EMS workers are covered by that waiver, according to FDNY officials. The fire alarm dispatchers and fire protection inspectors are not, Chalmers said. No one who has reached their 29th birthday, besides those covered by the waiver, can take the firefighter promotional exam.
Chalmers doesn’t share Smyth’s or Variale’s concerns when it comes to his membership because, he says, there are very few people in the service right now who are age-eligible for the exam. He expects only about a dozen inspectors to sign up for the exam, though he conceded that the number could grow if more young people join the FDNY.
“Now that you have this opportunity you will have a lot more young people on the job,” Chalmers said. The union leader credited the administration of Mayor Eric Adams, particularly Deputy Mayor of Public Safety Phil Banks, for getting DCAS to expand the eligibility for next year’s exam.
CIty Hall did not reply to an inquiry about Banks’ role and DCAS did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the alterations made to the exam eligibility.
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