After being sued by the U.S. Department of Justice earlier this year over unfair hiring practices, Mayor Bloomberg announced that the number of black and Hispanic candidates has doubled in the past five years. Of the 4,000 applicants who scored highest on this year's entrance exam (22,000 took the exam, 21,000 passed), a third were black or Hispanic, up from 14% in 2002. The FDNY currently has just under 12,000 members; 666 are Hispanic, 337 are black, and 75 are Asian American.

The Vulcan Society, a group of black firefighters, first filed the lawsuit, and then the Justice Department followed, claiming that the FDNY's tests didn't truly gauge the ability of the applicant as a potential firefighter and that the tests "disproportionately" screened out black and Hispanic candidates. The FDNY exam, made up of written and physical tests, is offered every 3 to 4 years; according to the FDNY website, the department also offers free tutoring to help applicants prepared for the written part of the exam, includes "reading comprehension, problem solving, spatial recognition and applying rules to general concepts."

The interesting thing is that the lawsuit was filed in May, and this year's exam was held in January. Mayor Bloomberg said, "I thought the lawsuit was unnecessary from the beginning. It was that we did not attract people to take the test. That was the fundamental problem." (The FDNY started a campaign to attract more minority - and women - recruits in 2006.) However, Vulcan Society president, firefighter John Coombs, told the Times that the results were "smoke and mirrors...When we start looking at minimal efforts, when we accept them, that becomes the standards. We don’t accept that standard.”

Earlier this year, Metro printed one of the exam's questions:

While operating at a fire, Capt. Green, the commander of the Ladder Company 999, was sent by Chief Brown to locate the exact location of the fire. The fire building was two stories in height with a basement. Capt. Green found that the fire was located in one corner at the rear of the basement. The best way for Capt. Green to write this information in a fire report upon returning to the firehouse was as follows:

A) “The fire was located on the lower level, in the rear.”
B) “The fire was located in the southeast corner of the lower level.”
C) “The fire was located in the southeast corner of the basement.”
D) “The fire was located in the rear of the basement.”

The answer is "C: The fire was located in the southeast corner of the basement."