Update: “‘Unfireable’ NYC firefighter quits”

by Walter Olson on November 25, 2013

“The female FDNY probie who was allowed to graduate from the Fire Academy without passing a required running test has quit” after a sixth unsuccessful try to run a mile and a half in 12 minutes or less. Wendy Tapia will “return back to EMS ranks,” said a fire spokesman.

“It’s really not about her, it’s about preferential treatment,” said Paul Mannix, president of Merit Matters, a firefighter group that opposes hiring quotas. “People are encouraged that she won’t be fighting fires, not because she’s a woman, but because she couldn’t meet the standards.”

For an excerpt from my discussion in The Excuse Factory of litigation challenging timed tests for firefighters, see this 2007 post. [New York Post, earlier]

{ 11 comments }

1 gasman 11.25.13 at 9:14 am

the good folks of Gotham can rest easy knowing that each and every active duty fire fighter can meet all physical fitness standards. Right? There’s no letting is slide once they are protected by the union, or accommodation for age or rank? Because an absolute standard is an absolute standard.

2 Mike 11.25.13 at 10:33 am

Mr. Gas:
the implication of your comment is that there should be no physical fitness qualifying standards at all.

3 ras 11.25.13 at 11:03 am

Mike,

I think his implication is that the standards should not only be enforced in order to become a firefighter, they should also be enforced in order to remain one.

4 Mike 11.25.13 at 12:43 pm

Mr. Ras:
Yes, it could be argued either way. Of course,if the initial physical fitness standards were strictly enforced against veteran firefighters (those who have not achieved command positions with very different responsibilities), the typical firefighter’s career would be very short.
Unlike Mr. Gas (Mr. Man?) I do not have a problem with relaxing performance standards to a reasonable extent for a veteran firefighter as age and minor injury take their inevitable toll.

5 No Name Guy 11.25.13 at 3:00 pm

The Army has on going fitness standards – soldiers of all ranks and all ages have to pass them on a regular basis (it must be fun to watch a 2 star General have to hoof it around the track on their 2 mile run, and do the pushups & situps). My brother is a cop – he has to pass his fitness test on a regular basis (don’t recall how often – annual is what comes to mind). If he fails, he’s hosed. I think its safe to say that firefighters also have to pass ongoing fitness tests – if you can’t hump a hose in your turnout gear and air tank up a flight of stairs, then hold on to the line until your tank is empty, you’re pretty well useless.

6 Boblipton 11.25.13 at 3:01 pm

Interesting. I could make an argument that although there might be some slide in cardio and raw strength as time goes by, it is usually more than compensated for by experience, the knowledge gained thereby and the speed of thought. I won’t, though, because I don’t really believe it.

While periodic retesting seems like a good idea, there seems to lurk at the base of this particular line of argument the thought that if we’re not going to maintain these standards later, there is no reason to have them initially. This strikes me as akin to the initial reasons to let this young woman in.

While the unions may make the maintenance of these standards impossible, surely it will take someone who is capable of meeting these standards initially longer to fall below them than someone who can’t meet them to begin with.

Bob

7 D 11.25.13 at 3:19 pm

A mile and a half in 12 minutes is not difficult unless you are very out of shape. Even after years of sedentary life during which I never ran once, I did it in 11 and a half minutes. After two weeks of moderate exercise, I knocked off a minute. Firefighters exercise all the time while on the job while awaiting the next call. I disagree that a firefighter’s career would be very short.
The burning building and the gear do not care one bit whether an individual is male or female, tall or short, strong or weak, knowledgable about fire safety or not. The firefighter’s opponent will not go easy based on the attributes of the individual. In this physically demanding job, it is reality, the law of nature, that demands that a firefighter be physically capable, both for the safety of self and of coworkers.
Just because Ms. Tapia is not physically capable of being a firefighter does not mean she is useless. She can still make a great contribution with EMS. She may even exceed what she could become in firefighting by working on the medical side.

8 Mike 11.25.13 at 5:25 pm

Boblipton has expressed clearly what I was trying to say (unsuccessfully, I’ll admit) about the need for initial performance standards.
Perhaps my thinking ability is not what it was.
Don’t tell my employer.

9 Turk 11.25.13 at 10:02 pm

A mile and a half in 12 minutes is not difficult unless you are very out of shape.

Or injured. Neither of the articles ever said what kind of foot injury it was.

I know plenty of people that have run a marathon at a faster pace, but if injured, all bets are off on just a 1.5M run.

10 Boblipton 11.25.13 at 10:49 pm

Turk, what you say is true. Now, how long should an injured applicant be given to come up to snuff? She seems to have been given a couple of years. My conclusion is that she is either never going to make it or she is very accident prone. Do you want a klutz in that situation?

Bob

11 Turk 11.26.13 at 3:27 pm

She seems to have been given a couple of years.

I believe the original article said she’d taken all the tests in the last 6 months.

Now, how long should an injured applicant be given to come up to snuff?

Until the person ages out? Let’s say a FD allows people to join any time before the age of 30 (I just made that up, I don’t know the actual age), and a person flunks the final at the age of 23 due to injury after being hit by a car. If that person is still otherwise qualified at the age of 28, by any testing or re-testing measures that the FD has, should the person get a shot just as any other applicant would?

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