Plea for FDNY to change ‘unfair’ firefighter hiring process

Firefighters at the scene of a two-alarm fire broke out in a vacant Midland Beach house at Graham Blvd. Tuesday evening.

Firefighters at the scene of a two-alarm fire broke out in a vacant Midland Beach house at Graham Blvd. Tuesday evening.(Staten Island Advance/Hilton Flores)

CITY HALL — A Great Kills man is among dozens of FDNY hopefuls removed from the city’s hiring roster despite scoring an 98 on the exam five years ago.

“My whole life I was taught that if I want something bad enough, that I must work hard and stay focused on the end goal,” Nicholas Bentivegna, who works at an electrical company, wrote to Councilman Joseph Borelli. “It seems that this value was lost for a lot of the people who were hired ahead of me.”

At 28, Bentivegna is also one year shy of FDNY’s age limit.

“All we want is a chance to be in the next December class — to show them we can do the work,” Bentivegna told the Advance, adding he plans to take the exam again when he can.

Hiring list rankings are assigned by both an applicant’s written exam score and, to break test ties, the fifth number of their Social Security number.

Roughly 50 individuals like Bentivegna who scored 98 on the 2012 entrance exam lost their place after the roster expired June 26, according Borelli (R-South Shore).

Borelli wants the city to extend the list for the group until the next FDNY class is available.

“It is simply unfair to proceed this way on what amounts to a life changing hiring for many otherwise-qualified individuals,” Borelli said in a statement.

The 2012 test was the first since a federal judge ruled other exams discriminated against minorities.

At one point, Judge Nicholas Garaufis also called the FDNY “a stubborn bastion of white male privilege.”

The court became involved when a black fraternal FDNY organization called the Vulcan Society filed a U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission complaint and the U.S. Department of Justice filed a federal lawsuit.

Garaufis ruled in favor of the Vulcan Society and the Justice Department in 2009 and the city was forced to overhaul the test.

Eric Eichenholtz, assistant corporation counsel at the city Law Department, wrote to Garaufis in November about complaints over the use of the Social Security numbers.

“This process is an appropriately race neutral way to distinguish between candidates who have identical list scores,” Eichenholtz wrote to the judge. “It addresses the reality that ties will need to be broken between such candidates under circumstances where all the tied candidates cannot be appointed.”

Garaufis agreed, and decided the court wouldn’t intervene with regard to the expiring list for the 2012 exam or the use of social security numbers as tiebreakers.

Bentivegna alleged that the city was discriminating against people like him.

“I do not understand why all people of every race and background are not treated fairly, that is discrimination to the people like myself who have trained hard, to be turned down just so the department can fill a quota of minority hires,” Bentivegna wrote to Borelli.

Civil service exams are managed by the Department of Citywide Administrative Services, or DCAS.

Borelli wrote to DCAS Commissioner Lisette Camilo and Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro about the issue on Monday.

FDNY spokesmen didn’t respond to requests for comment.

“The court already reviewed the issue and found it to be without merit,” DCAS spokeswoman Cathy Hanson said.

Borelli said the city should prioritize hiring those who pass the exam on the first attempt. He also thinks the city should assign list numbers by number of attempts, as well as the written and psychical exam scores.

“If there are no ways to evaluate and stratify within each score, all people from a certain score should be offered employment prior to the start of a new list,” Borelli said. “Fair is fair.”

Union officials have said there are more than 2,000 UFA members who live on Staten Island, with some 650 firefighters assigned to the borough.

This article was updated with comment from DCAS.

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