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Mass Exodus of Fire Department Supervisors: Will This Finally Make Room for Women and People of Color?

StoryAugust 08, 2002
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New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced Wednesday the Fire Department’s top management will be expanded and reorganized. Among other changes, the number of staff chiefs will be almost doubled. Staff chiefs are the highest-ranking uniformed members.

Bloomberg’s comments came a day after the New York Times reported on its front page that New York City is facing a mass exodus of firefighters, from the rank and file to the most senior management positions.

Scores of the Fire Department supervisors, including some of its most senior surviving commanders, have retired since Sept. 11. Hundreds more have notified their union that they expect to leave within a year. The rank and file are also leaving at an alarming rate: forty of the department’s front-line firefighters are retiring every week. A year ago, 40 of these firefighters might have retired in a typical month.

The mass exodus raises an important question. In times of war, there is often an opening up of opportunities for people who have previously been excluded from certain industries and jobs. During World War II, people of color and women of all colors were recruited in unprecedented numbers to work in defense plants and factories. These higher paying, industrialized jobs were once the sole domain of white men.

The New York City Fire Department is currently one of the least diversified fire departments in the country. African Americans comprise less than 3% of the force. The Women in Fire Service reports that there are only 29 women firefighters in the entire New York City Fire Department.

The question is: will the tragedy-stricken fire department make room for people of color and women of all colors in this time of war?


  • Lieutenant Mike Marshall, Firefighter and the second vice president of the Vulcan Society, which brought and won a suit against Fire Department about 20 years ago.
  • Mary Carouba, Co-Author of “Women at Ground Zero”.
  • Susan Hagen, Firefighter and Co-Author of “Women at Ground Zero”.
  • Eric Foner, professor of history at the Columbia University

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