A group of black firefighters are back in federal court this week for the next stage in the long-running lawsuit against the FDNY, which they accuse of discriminatory hiring practices. Last year, a judge blocked the FDNY from hiring recruits because he found the FDNY's previous three recruitment exams discriminated against nonwhites. The trial's current phase started off with a bang yesterday, when the plaintiffs submitted a sworn deposition by FDNY official Patricia Kavaler, who testified in 2008 about what she perceived as shady, nepotistic "back room" hiring practices that enabled white firefighter candidates to get hired despite troubling criminal records.

Kavaler recalled that FDNY brass would lobby the review board that looks over candidates' criminal pasts, testifying that lieutenants and captains would call in about candidates and say, " 'This is 'boys being boys.' That sort of thing. 'This is the son of so and so. I lived next-door to him for years, he's a good guy. He beat his wife but his wife took him back so he shouldn't be considered a wife beater.' " The Vulcan Society, a fraternal black firefighter association that's suing the city with the Department of Justice, claims that black and Hispanic candidates without connections have been held to a much higher standard.

Yesterday lawyers for the Vulcan Society also grilled Dean Tow, director of candidate investigations for the FDNY. They were particularly interested in the hiring process for former NYPD cops Richard Murphy and Edward McMellon, who became firefighters after they were cleared by a jury of gunning down unarmed Bronx man Amadou Diallo in an infamous blaze of 41 bullets. A lawyer for the Vulcan Society asked Tow yesterday, "Did you have any concern that, perhaps, in shooting an innocent civilian ['the cops'] judgment, while although not criminal, may have been faulty?" The Daily News reports that Tow "tersely" replied, "No."

The special trial is an attempt to force the FDNY to change the way it recruits candidates, and require the department to more closely monitor workplace mistreatment, like when somebody stashes a noose in a black FDNY member's locker. Recently, the department launched a new ad campaign aimed at increasing the minority applicant pool, and officials tell the Post they're seeing a three-fold rise in black applicants for its next entrance exam.