Race Probe Launched Into FDNY Hiring Practices

NEW YORK (AP) -- The city Fire Department, where more than 90 percent of the firefighters are white, is under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible discrimination in its hiring practices, a spokesman for the federal agency said Tuesday.

``I can confirm an investigation into whether the New York Fire Department has a pattern or practice of discrimination against blacks and Hispanics in hiring,'' said Eric Holland, a Washington-based spokesman for the Justice Department.

Holland, citing an ongoing investigation, said he could not comment any further.

The inquiry began about two years ago after the Vulcan Society, a fraternal organization of black firefighters, filed a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission, said Capt. Paul Washington, president of the Vulcans.

The department has historically come under criticism for its failure to increase the number of minorities and women on the force. Currently, about 92 percent of the FDNY's 11,500 firefighters and officers are white, while Hispanics make up 4.7 percent, blacks 3 percent and women less than 1 percent.

Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta released a statement promising full cooperation with federal investigators. ``We want a department that reflects the communities we serve, and we are working vigorously to achieve that goal,'' Scoppetta said.

In a City Council hearing Monday, Scoppetta touted ``significant progress'' in minority hiring. Since 2000, 15.6 percent of new firefighters recruited were minority candidates. In the 10 years previous, that figure was 5.4 percent.

Notification of the federal investigation came in a letter to city lawyers last week.