Log in Subscribe

A few of our stories and columns are now in front of the paywall. We at The Chief-Leader remain committed to independent reporting on labor and civil service. It's been our mission since 1897. You can have a hand in ensuring that our reporting remains relevant in the decades to come. Consider supporting The Chief, which you can do for as little as $3.20 a month.

Firefighters lack clarity on promo list from lieutenant's exam

DCAS curved results to benefit women, minority test-takers


FDNY firefighters are still awaiting clarity and transparency regarding the results of a December 2022 promotional exam published by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services last fall. 

DCAS released the hiring list from the promotional exam to firefighter lieutenant on Sept. 24, but, after firefighters complained to their unions, DCAS and the FDNY, the agency took down the list and admitted they had made errors in how they weighted firefighters' seniority and merit awards in their total scores. 

DCAS posted an updated list on Oct. 15, but firefighters filed additional complaints because of other errors and ongoing confusion with the grading algorithm used by the agency to create the list. 

Firefighters have pushed their unions, City Council members and the FDNY to insist that DCAS provide clarity and transparency on its grading system. So far, though, the test takers remain unsatisfied with the answers they’ve received. 

"There is still an issue with how that exam is being weighted,” Michael Tracey, a FDNY captain and recording secretary of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said during a hearing last week of the City Council’s Committee of Civil Service and Labor. "We have had no transparency or no insight into how that was graded. So many questions remain."   

FDNY also seeking a resolution 

Sanford Cohen, DCAS’s general counsel, who also testified at the hearing, admitted that DCAS flubbed the first list, explaining that seniority and departmental awards accounted for 15 percent of a test-takers grade, instead of the proper even split between that and the score on the multiple-choice test. Cohen, though, wasn’t asked by Council members about the second, current list. He did say, however, that the department applied a curve to results for that updated list and suggested that the agency had set a failure cutoff different from what was listed on the notice of examination. 

 "Curving is a mechanism that we use widely in our scoring on multiple-choice tests,” Cohen said at the hearing. "It’s standard for the industry." 

A DCAS spokesperson said that, following a post-exam analysis, the 2022 lieutenant test was scaled upwards, artificially increasing the number of candidates who passed the exam, due to significant adverse impact on African American, Hispanic, Asian and female test takers. 

The spokesperson said that this adverse impact curve is mandated by law and that a third-party vendor developed the formula for the scaling. The scaling did not change the rankings of individual test takers on the exam — that was caused by the difference in the weight of seniority and departmental awards between the two lists — the spokesperson added, but only increased the number of people who passed the exam.

The FDNY, through a spokesperson, acknowledged that DCAS applied a curve to the exam. But the spokesperson added that the FDNY has a different point of view on the curve applied to the list than DCAS does, and that top department officials have been working with DCAS to resolve those differences.  

"We continue to advocate on behalf of the members who studied hard and took this exam, and we hope to have a resolution to this issue soon,” the spokesperson said in a statement. 

A passing score on the exam, like those on other tests administered by DCAS, was 70 according to the notice of examination. The worst-scoring person, ranking 1677th, according to the updated list, scored a 73. The lowest score on the 2015 exam, the most recent prior to 2022’s, was 75.875, and that list was generated only after DCAS published two incorrect lists. 

Jim Brosi, the president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, said DCAS failed to explain the specifics of the curve applied to the current list. Speaking with The Chief Thursday, he added that DCAS’s manner of generating the list “still has not been made clear to us.” 

Firefighters frustrated 

Patrick Finegan, who took the 2022 exam, said that there’s been “no transparency and no explanation of how [DCAS] graded this exam.”  

Finegan, who is the Uniformed Firefighters Association’s Manhattan trustee, added that he and the nearly 1,700 firefighters on the list have been in limbo since last fall and that there hasn’t been any official communication on the matter from the FDNY this year. He was relieved, however, to hear that the FDNY has been working with DCAS to resolve the matter, saying that the two agencies “should be working hand in hand.” 

Another firefighter, Joshua Lomask, said that “as far as firefighters like me are concerned, anything DCAS touches is always a travesty.”

Firefighters train for several years for the exam, Tracey, the UFOA official, said during his testimony, and when DCAS fails to provide transparent results, it reduces the importance of that preparation. 

"We prepare for a reason,” Tracey said. "Because the information we are being tested on has consequences for life safety at fires.” 

Besides added prestige attached to the promotion to lieutenant, veteran firefighters net a $15,000 raise as well as improved retirement contributions and health-care benefits.


We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.



No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here