Fire Dept. Begins Physical Tests After Settling Suit By Black Applicants

CHICAGO (CBS) — They’ve been waiting for a long, long time, but on Tuesday, the first of hundreds of African American applicants finally got a fair shot at Chicago firefighters’ jobs.

They’ve been waiting 16 years since filing a lawsuit accusing the fire department of discrimination in its testing for the Fire Department.

CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports on their stories about “the lost years.”

The firefighter candidates might have lost some strength and agility since they took the written test in 1995 and maybe gained some weight, but what many haven’t lost is their childhood dream.

“I just thought this was something that touched me deeply going back into my childhood; watching all these beautiful greystones in the city die and watching them die at the hands of fires. So I always wanted to be a firefighter,” said Michael Taqee, who took the city’s firefighter test in 1995.

Taqee was just one member of that class of 1995. They sued over that written test and the courts have ruled hundreds of African Americans who passed the test were unfairly passed over for jobs because of their race, rather than their ability.

Rick Moorhe was another member of that class.

“Back then, I was a kid and, like I said, I was just looking to do anything. Now, I wanna settle into a career,” he said.

Those firefighter candidates have been hoping for a rewarding career, saving lives, saving parts of Chicago’s history. It’s one of the toughest and most dangerous jobs there is. In the last year, two Chicago firefighters died in the line of duty.

Asked if the candidates, some of whom are now 50, an hope to be able to perform the physical duties of a firefighter, Deputy Fire Commissioner Charles Stewart said, “A 50-year-old who’s applying, hopes to be able to do this job, who’s properly trained, should be able to do the job.”

On Tuesday, the first group of the 800 candidates showed up for strength and agility testing, which will be given to the entire class over the next 10 days.

The first 111 candidates to pass the physical abilities tests, drug tests, background checks and medical exams will be hired as firefighters.

For years, the department has been trying to move past complaints about racial tensions and a lack of diversity.

In 1990, at a retirement party at Engine 100, firefighters were caught on video drinking and using racial slurs. In 2004, several racist radio transmissions were recorded on the Fire Department’s radio band. And studies of the department have concluded “the racial divide in the department is enormous.”

Asked if the Fire Department is more inclusive than in 1995 and if firefighters work well together, regardless of race, Stewart said, “We try to be, that’s our mission. Our job is to be there when you need us. We don’t decide who’s coming, we come.”

When the lawsuit over the 1995 firefighter test was settled, the African American candidates who were passed over were offered cash or another chance.

“I’m a little older. I know it’s gonna be a little harder, but I think I can go ahead and do what I have to do to get to the top of the job,” applicant Tony Mull said.

Citywide support of President Obama and the South Side and West Side support of Mayor Rahm Emanuel might indicate that Chicago could be moving toward a period of post-racial politics. How the new African American recruits are accepted in a department still 80% white might be an even better indicator.

  • Jane

    Why should they be accepted into a job they didn’t earn? There were many white people that took that test and didn’t qualify and yet didn’t sue because of testing bias. There was no bias. If you cannot pass a test it is not because of your race. It is because you are not qualified. What about the black people that did pass that test and were hired? Are they “the exception”? No, they were qualified. Stop blaming every single thing on race. What’s worse is this city being so afraid of looking racist and catering to everyone that uses the race card to get what they want.

    • Will

      It’s not that the didn’t qualify, the point is that they did qualify but were passed over for white candidates who scored lower than they did. Is that enough of a testing bias for you??

      • Jane

        Will I have read the article and know the testing process. I said they didn’t pass because they DID NOT PASS. There are certain catergories for this test. The categories are Well qualified, qualified and not qualified. Those who sued were on the not qualified list which means they did not pass. Those members that were selected were on the well qualified and qualified lists. That list included whites and blacks alike. Just because you want to be a fireman doesn’t make you qualified to be one. Just because the department is mostly white does not make it testing bias. If you are intelligent enough or a great test taker then you will be hired because you will be well qualified. Don’t blame Chicago for the poor test results of those who sued. They should blame themselves and live with the outcome like the WHITES AND HISPANICS that also did not qualify and yet didn’t use “the man is holding me back” mentality to sue.

      • Shataniana

        That is ridiculous. The racial bias you speak of, simply doesn’t exist. These guys flunked the test and then cried that the test was culturally biased, also a whole load of BS. There were also whites that didn’t make the cut. It’s not 1920 anymore. Blacks can sit anywhere on the bus, and use the same restroom as whites. You are stuck in the past!

      • Will

        @Shataniana Why do so many people think they failed the test? Read the article again please. They passed the test and none were hired, none were allowed to take the physical test. The CFD is still 80% white? That is right now, you don’t think that shows bias, oh but i gues that’s becasue only whites wanted to be firemen. Come on thats a good ole boy network at its finest.

  • Token

    You think the city will not allow these blacks to pass the physical? Of course they will all do “exceptionally well”. Not only that, but these 111, will come on the job with attitudes, looking for their next lawsuit. The city will bend over backwards to make sure they have the best of everything. This sucks for taxpayers and morale.

  • LOTD

    AGREED 100% with Jane & Token’s above comments!!! Well put folks, thanks! I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I firmly believe that you speak for alot of people!!!

  • Shataniana

    Are all of these guys required to take the test again? What happens if they flunk again? Will they get a pass because they are black? Maybe the test was modified to a sixth grade level so they can pass it. Either way, this is extreme racial discrimination! Pathetic!!

    • Deeje

      They PASSED the test but were passed over for white candidates who scored lower than they did. Did you skip that part of the story???

      • Angry WHITE TAX PAYER

        They were not passed over for whites that scored lower. Anyone that scored 89% or lower was put into a pool and not hired, until the pool of 90% and higher candidates were all hired. W+once that pool was exhausted, the city hired many of these black (89% or lower candidates). Know what you’re talking about before you comment. You can’t go off the basis of this biased article…Dipshi!t

  • Tyrone

    Don’t worry, over half will fail drug tests and new background checks. Nigs gonna nig.

    • Jane

      oh but Tyrone don’t you know they’ll sue again saying it’s the city’s fault they failed the drug test. They weren’t on drugs 16 years ago. They went on drugs because they were so distraught over not passing this test.

  • Burt

    So, they couldn’t pass a written test and that makes it racial? All over this country,balcks are allowed to score lower on certain entrance exams and get a free pass basically. Now that’s racial.

  • Nate

    ““I’m a little older. I know it’s gonna be a little harder, but I think I can go ahead and do what I have to do to get to the top of the job,” applicant Tony Mull said.””

    They better do better than just hope to be able to do the job… because as a firefighter & one that is in the best shape of my life at 25 who was just passed up as a Chicago Firefighter for one of these Black 1995 applicants who are in or close to there Mid 40″s! If you don’t do your Best & Be 100% ABLE TO DO EVERY FUNCTION OF THIS JOB SOMEONE WILL DIE!!! CHICAGO HAS ALREADY LOST 2 BROTHERS THIS YEAR! HOPEFULLY NO ONE WILL DIE AT YOUR INABILITIES!

  • Chicago is mad

    Not only is this a joke that this hiring is being allowed this also opens the door for a lot of other lawsuits. Paramedics who ARE ON THE JOB should be able to sue because they can’t transfer to be firemen if they are passed the age cut off. How is that fair? They are on the job already and it is a transfer within the department. Now that the city is waiving the age limit and letting 50+ year olds onto the job they just set precedent. I’m not saying 50 is too old to do the job. No way as there are many that age and old doing this job. The difference is they KNOW the job because they have been trained for many years and have been doing this job. Rahm and the Chicago’s lawyers just put the life of many people I know and love in danger by allowing this hiring. Rahm you should be ashamed of yourself for bending over and taking this up your rump or should I say shoving it up the fire departments rump.

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