New York

Paul Washington of the Vulcan Society: “The FDNY Has Been Lily White for 150 Years”


FDNY Captain Paul Washington is a past president of the Vulcan Society. He was also the FDNY employee who raised the original Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint about the department’s racial makeup, which joined a decades long federal lawsuit against the city and led to yesterday’s landmark decision placing the FDNY under permanent injunction by the Justice Department.

We spoke to Captain Washington last night about his thoughts on the order, what it means, and if he’ll be involved in the process over the next decade, the timeframe the judge expects a Court Monitor will be overseeing the department.

How are you feeling tonight?

Pretty good. This is very exciting.

Those were pretty strong words Judge Garaufis had for the Mayor.

Rightfully. I mean, he fought us every step of the way, for whatever reason. I can’t figure it out. They fought us when it didn’t make any sense. The Judge clearly see that’s the issue.

Have you read the entire opinion yet?

Yes, I have.

Were you surprised by anything in it?

No, not really. Everything the Judge said, I agreed with it pretty much. I wouldn’t say I was surprised. Happy, but not surprised.

Was there anything missing from it, as far as you were concerned, or did the opinion cover all of the bases?

Pretty much it covered everything. There was one issue that’s very important, but I don’t even know if it would fall under [Garauifis’s] jurisdiction. That’s the issue of New York City residency. And there’s nothing in there about that. What we have right now is very good, but in the future they may be able to get around it. But, it’s not something I would criticize the decision about.

The Judge says a federal Court Monitor might be around for 10 years. Do you think it’s necessary to have such a long term plan in place?

Certainly. The FDNY has been lily white for almost 150 years. It take s along time to see the kind of change we want to see, before we see a diversified department. It’s like an ocean liner – it doesn’t start or stop and turn on a dime. So it will be awhile before there are more black firefighters on the fire trucks, and to change the mindset and the culture which are the problem. It’s a long process. We’re talking 10 years for now, but we’ve been deeply involved in this for 12 years. It’s been 12 years of an on-going fight, and we’re just now starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s not a brief fight; it’s a long term fight.

And, of course, the federal lawsuit against the city was going on for decades before that.


Do you worry about any backlash for current black firefighters from any members of the rank and file that might be upset about this ruling?

I mean, I am not really worried about that at al. My thoughts are that, when I look back at all the things that black folks have had to protest over the past 400 years we’ve been in this country…In the past, we were killed or tied to a try and whipped, or our houses were burned down, or we were tortured in the worst ways possible if we ever said anything. If a guy is going to have a problem because certain white firefighters are upset about this ruling, well, he’s just going to have to stand up and deal with it. It’s a small price to pay, historically speaking.

And we’re not going to accept any kind of backlash lying down, or any kind of backlash, period.

Did you have any conversations with your co-workers about this?

With my black co-workes, yes, but I wasn’t at work today. I’ve talked to other members of the Vulcan Society on the phone. I have never talked about this in the firehouse.


No. I’m a Captain. The firefighters talk about it amongst themselves. But I don’t bring it up with them, and they don’t bring it up to me.

Will you personally be involved with the Court Monitor for the next decade?

Yes. The Monitor is going to interact the with Vulcan Society, and with the city and the Justice Department for the next 10 years. Hopefully some of those members of our group will be those who’ve already been involved, and also hopefully some new members.

The filing period for the next exam is now closed. How many black candidates signed up? Hispanic?

It’s 23 percent black, 23 Hispanic. Overall, it’s 49 percent people of color.

Is that a record?

Yeah. The last test was 19% black, 19% Hispanic. It’s a little better than that. But as for recruiting, the Judge’s decision that he handed down says that recruiting is one aspect of the whole picture. Its about the only thing the FDNY has put any effort into at all. But it’s certainly not the only issue.

Related: The FDNY, a “Bastion of White Male Privilege,” Placed Under Permanent Injunction by Judge

Young Men’s Initiative: The White Mayor’s Burden
Hosed: The FDNY’s Black Firefighter Problem
10 Most Idiotic Questions on FDNY Entrance Exams
FDNY Filing Period Over September 15

Most Popular