Diversity Goals and Hiring Practices in Greenburgh

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It’s a new day in Greenburgh. The key to starting any new day is waking up. If something isn’t working, then we have to make a change.

I’ve lived in both Hastings and Edgemont, and I know that many people in the villages (Hastings, Dobbs, Irvington, Elmsford, Tarrytown, Ardsley) do not even know they live in Greenburgh. That’s not their fault, and it’s something I hope we can all change by being more aware of the challenges Greenburgh is facing. Fairview is the neighborhood in the northeast part of Greenburgh, bordering Mount Pleasant to the north and White Plains to the east.

Last night the Fairview Fire Headquarters was packed with residents asking for an important change: that the Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners begins to make an effort to hire fire fighters who reflect the community’s rich diversity.

When we talk about race, conversations get uncomfortable. This one doesn’t have to be. I ask that when you read this, you pause and approach it with an open mind.

I’m not alleging that anyone is doing anything wrong. I think a simple structural change can make an important difference here.

First, let’s look at the stats. Fairview is 60% African American, but only 4 out of 45 firefighters are African American. The board has hired only two African Americans in the past 17 years.

The Board of Fire Commissioners mentioned that their hands are tied; they take three Fairview residents who scored the highest on Westchester County’s civil service exam and then they hire one of those three. They said they aren’t seeing many African American candidates. They also mentioned that they can do a much better job with proactive recruitment, and it was great to hear them acknowledge that.

The Fairview community communicated that increased diversity is one of the most important changes they’d like to see.

Of course, no one cares what race the firefighter is when they’re coming to save your life. It’s critical that the department hires the candidates who will make the best firefighters. Let’s explore how it’s possible to improve diversity while continuing to hire the most qualified candidates…

The Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners mentioned that when they hire, they start with bringing in three Fairview residents who scored a perfect 100 on the Westchester civil service exam. If they don’t have three, then they start looking at the next highest scores. They mentioned that if they didn’t restrict themselves to hiring only Fairview residents, then they would be able to choose from potentially dozens of Greenburgh residents or hundreds of Westchester residents who scored a perfect 100 on the exam. This means that they will have a much greater chance of finding African American candidates who scored a perfect 100.

The residents of Fairview at the meeting requested that the Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners makes this change to begin hiring candidates from across the town or from across Westchester to meet the community’s diversity goals. This important change would solve a critical social problem in the immediate future while continuing to pull from the highest quality candidates (all scoring 100). In fact, this would probably improve the quality of candidates, because Fairview would be drawing from a larger pool.

We need to see this change announced at their next meeting.

The civil service exam is only given once every four years in Westchester. Over the long term, we also need to see a proactive strategy from the Board of Fire Commissioners to recruit the next generation of firefighters. They mentioned that they “do not recruit ahead of time like corporate America”, and they admitted that there is significant room for improvement.

Members of the Fairview Board of Fire Commissioners are unpaid volunteers, serving a 5 year term. I commend them on stepping up and for their selfless service. December 10th is the next election in Fairview. Every year, one fire commissioner in Fairview is up for election. Turnout for these elections is very low, so each voter has a larger impact. Fire commissioners in your district determine the fire budget, so it’s important to watch these elections.

Have you gotten involved in your fire commission’s meetings? What issues are they facing?