In July, a group of potential firefighters considered the most diverse ever in the FDNY's history began training. Of 318 recruits, 66% were minorities, and the class had a record eight women. Five of those women made it through probation to become firefighters. But according to some firefighters, one of those women isn't cutting it, and they believe she's been kept around simply because she's a woman.
The Post claims that Wendy Tapia – one of only five women in the FDNY's latest class of 285 new firefighters; there are only 35 total women, total, amongst the city's 11,000 firefighters – has failed the FDNY running test five times but was still allowed to graduate from Fire Academy; her sixth running test is scheduled for December. According to the FDNY, it was pushed back because of work-related foot injury. That's an excuse her coworkers don't buy. One argued that Tapia wasn't being held to a high enough standard:
"I don't know how she got to graduate. It never should have happened," a female firefighter told The Post. "You should not graduate if you can't meet all the requirements — male, female, black or white."
Another thought the effort being invested into her was wasteful:
"They put so many resources into training just her," an insider said. "Every time she fails, she has a different excuse."
And the last felt that Tapia was weighing down the legacy of other female firefighters:
She said FDNY brass, under pressure from a court order to hire more minorities, "want their numbers — that's all it is."
But that does female firefighters no favors, she added.
"It's making us look bad. It's undermining everything we've strived for and achieved of our own accord," she said.
After a class action lawsuit was filed against the city in 2002 that wasn't resolved until a decade later, a judge essentially court-mandated diversity in the FDNY. But this latest diverse class of recruits was reportedly plagued with dropouts, which an editorial in the Post claimed was because the recruits were much older than they should be, as many of them were former potential firefighters who had passed the test but not gotten hired the first time around. "We've long believed that the real bias in this was [in Judge Nicholas Garaufis's] ruling — against the Fire Department and in favor of some fanciful notion of affirmative action," wrote the Editorial Board. "Life-saving services performed by New York's Bravest are too vital to the city's safety for these games."
"It didn't matter if your entire male side of your family had been in the fire service since 1492," retired firefighter Brenda Berkman, one of the first women to be hired to the force, told PBS for their Makers series. "It did not matter: if you were born a girl, you were not going to be allowed to even apply to become a New York City firefighter."
Image via Chris Hondros/Getty