Case 34: Philadelphia Fire Dept.
Part E:  Newspaper Coverage 02-10-05

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Racial preferences divide Philly PFD On Thursday, Feb. 10, 2005 The Philadelphia Northeast Times ran the following story and editorial about the racial hiring practices at the Philadelphia Fire Department. Dedication and service regardless of skin color
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Northeast Times Article
Feb. 10, 2005

Reprinted in its entirety with permission
2005 Northeast Times

White firemen are hot and bothered

By Tom Waring
Times Staff Writer

[Northeast Times 02-10-05] -- The Concerned American Fire Fighters Association’s Philadelphia chapter thinks its diligence might have finally paid off.

          CAFFA is a vocal opponent of the Philadelphia Fire Department’s hiring policies. Specifically, group members say they are angry that the department has regularly exceeded a longtime federal court decree in an apparent attempt to increase the number of black firefighters.

          Class 179, which started on Jan. 3, represents a reversal of recent department hiring practices. The class originally consisted of 74 recruits, including two being trained for the Upper Darby Fire Department.

          Of the 72 Philadelphians in that class, 55 were white and 10 were black. The rest were Hispanics who generally scored low on entrance tests but were hired because they are bilingual.


A. Introduction and Overview (New Page)
B. Detailed Discrimination Data (New Page)
C. Legal Documents and Summary (New Page)
D. Black Fire Commissioner, Black Mayor (New Page)
Northeast Times news article 2-10-05
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          CAFFA is pleased that the city finally came close to adhering to the consent decree, which requires that at least 12 percent of fire department classes consist of black recruits.

          The organization says it is accustomed to watching department executives flagrantly ignore the 12-percent figure by increasing the number of black candidates for jobs in the fire department.

          "Now, all of a sudden, they stop. Maybe their conscience got to them," said Lt. Mike Bresnan, a Torresdale resident and president of the local chapter.

          Bresnan’s group will keep the pressure on city officials to stick to the 12-percent decree, as long as it’s in effect.

          "Hopefully, they learned their lesson," he said.

          The controversy dates to January 1974, when Club Valiants -- an organization of black Philadelphia firefighters -- filed a class-action complaint against Mayor Frank L. Rizzo, Fire Commissioner Joe Rizzo, Managing Director Hillel Levinson and others.

The organization alleged discrimination against minorities in hiring and promotions.

The court ultimately ordered the city to increase promotions of blacks by, among other things, adding points to their test scores. Among the beneficiaries was a would-be captain named Harold Hairston, who would later become the city fire commissioner.

CAFFA, though, is largely focused on hiring practices.

          According to October 1973 figures, only 8 percent of firemen were black, even though blacks represented one-third of Philadelphia’s population.

          The fire department then, as it does now, hired from an eligibility list composed of candidates who pass a written, multiple-choice examination. Veterans are given 10 additional points.

          U.S. District Judge Louis C. Bechtle, who established the 12-percent figure, ultimately ruled that the fire department did not intentionally discriminate, but he found that blacks did not pass the entrance test at the same rate as whites.

          The city has developed several remedies, including changing its exam to make it easier to pass and aggressively recruiting black candidates.

          However, the biggest change has occurred since at least 1997, the first year that CAFFA has hiring documentation. The city, the group argues, simply skips white candidates to hire black and Hispanic recruits with lower scores.

          The organization points to classes 175-178, which were hired from June 2002 to October 2003.

          According to documents obtained by CAFFA, 41 individuals -- all veterans -- were hired in Class 175. The score rankings for the white hires ranged from 4 to 38.5. The black hires were ranked generally lower, from 33 to 108. The figures were similar for classes 176, 177 and 178.

          Criticism of the policy is not new.

          After the Valiants filed their original complaint more than 30 years ago, City Solicitor Sheldon Albert argued that it would be unfair to impose a quota by ignoring the rank on the eligibility list.

          Bechtle dismissed that view in a July 1974 opinion.

          "Well, the court’s comment on that is simply this: No person has a vested interest in an unlawful hiring list, and if a person appears on a list that has been prepared in violation of law, his right to remain on that list in a certain rank must give way to the lawful requirements to avoid discriminatory hiring."

          Bechtle suggested that any employee with a complaint should petition the city.

          Today, CAFFA says, times have changed. While the Rizzo administration was no fan of the court action, the Street administration doesn’t seem to want to change the hiring policy.

          Calls to Mayor John Street and Fire Commissioner Lloyd Ayers -- a former president of Club Valiants -- were not returned. Lt. Claude Smith, president of the Valiants, offered no comment.

          CAFFA has written to several members of City Council, with little success.

          "It’s a political hot potato," said Joe Montague, a Bustleton resident and vice president of the group.

          CAFFA has also brought its complaints to Local 22, the union representing Philadelphia firefighters.

          The organization, though, understands that the union cannot afford to alienate its 900 black members. In addition, the union does not begin representing individuals who have passed the entrance test until they are hired.

          Local 22 president Tom O’Drain, who lives in Tacony, said anger over the enduring federal consent decree is festering among some firefighters and causing a bit of a divide in the department.

          O’Drain would like to sit down with the city, CAFFA and the Valiants to address the consent decree.

          "I think CAFFA has the right to disagree with the city’s hiring practices," he said, adding that he takes no position.

          The local CAFFA chapter formed in February 2004 -- Chicago firefighters established the first one in 1993 -- and has about 400 members of all ranks. The group is also open to non-firefighters who support its cause.

          CAFFA also welcomes minorities. In fact, the treasurer, Torresdale resident Kelvin Fong, is an Asian-. There are also black and Hispanic members.

          "It’s about equal opportunity for all," Fong said.

          In past years, many firefighters were hesitant to speak out about the decree. That seems to be changing.

          "There are a lot of disgruntled people," said retired Chief John Hunter, who lives in Somerton.

          CAFFA has a Web site -- -- and also works with Adversity.Net, a Maryland-based non-profit company founded in 1997 to promote fair and equal treatment under the law without regard to race.

          Tim Fay, chairman and founder of the company [Adversity.Net], has posted on his Web site statistics and a study showing that the city and the fire department are hiring black recruits who score well below whites on the entrance test.

          "They’ve continued to exceed the minority hiring goal," he said.

          The city policy also has an unintended consequence, according to Bresnan, the local CAFFA president.

          Black firefighters are stigmatized by some of their white colleagues. It’s not fair, Bresnan said, to those firefighters who scored high enough to be hired without the decree or the extra boost from the city.

          "There are blacks that get hired legitimately," he said.

          CAFFA does not like the 12-percent decree, but it really despises the practice of hiring recruits whose scores fall below that cutoff. The organization, noting that Bechtle is retired, wants a new judge assigned to the case in hopes that the decree will be lifted. There are dozens of white people who have passed the test but not been hired because the city ignores the decree, CAFFA argues.

          "They take the test, and have no idea they’re being passed over," Bresnan said. -30-

Last Known Link:

Northeast Times reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or

Northeast Times Editorial
Feb. 10, 2005

Reprinted in its entirety with permission
2005 Northeast Times

Ebony and Ivory

Northeast Times Editorial

          Here’s a simple question for all Americans -- for everyone from the simple-minded to the deepest thinkers:

          How many black Americans like to be singled out for anything merely because they’re black?  And how many white Americans like to lose out on a job merely because they’re white?  An honest answer probably would be, very, very few.

          Hiring somebody to do a job -- any job, be it police officer, firefighter, teacher, janitor, basketball player, whatever -- based on the color of their skin is patently offensive and directly contrary to what the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so forcefully and eloquently expressed in his I Have a Dream speech.

          February is Black History Month, so this is a good time to point out there is something very unsettling about using pigmentation as the basis for anything in America these days. We’ve come too far as a society. Blacks are people, too. We all get that message, and we all agree with it.

          Therefore, it is distressing to know that the City of Philadelphia is still hiring firefighters on the basis of their skin color, thanks to a federal consent decree.

          An assurance that at least 12 percent of fire department classes consist of black recruits is just as wrong as an assurance that at least 12 percent of the classes consist of white recruits . . . or Hispanic recruits . . . or Asian recruits, etc.

          The consent decree should have been put to sleep long ago, along with all the other vestiges of racial discrimination.

          Efforts such as aggressive outreach and recruitment in "minority" communities and bilingual training for present and future firefighters are a much better way to go to make the Philadelphia Fire Department more representative of the population as a whole.

          "Reverse" discrimination -- i.e., discrimination against whites who do well on examinations but are the "wrong" color -- is just as wrong as discrimination against blacks. -30-

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END Case 34: (E) Newspaper Coverage 2-10-05


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(E) Newspaper Coverage 02-10-05

The Philadelphia Chapter of the Concerned American Firefighters Association (CAFFA) is fighting racial quotas.
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*  We use the term reverse discrimination reluctantly and only because it is so widely understood.  In our opinion there really is only one kind of discrimination.