Race an Issue

One of the 800 pound gorillas  in the room within the Philadelphia Fire Department according to the Berkshire Associates evaluation is race. Berkshire specifically covered this in reference to the promotional process.


Saying that the promotional process is a key source is not an accurate statement.  It is however one of the key sources. There are other issues pertaining to fairness that equal promotion. I will relate my personal experience on promotion and give you some indication ofwhy this my be an issue.

After applying for the testing process the city gives a written test.  The test is then graded with a set pass/fail grade.  That is set by the city.  But after the test is graded a sort of bell curve is applied to increase the amount of people passing the test.  So the better you do the less points get added to your score,  the worse you do the more points get added.  This curve brings more people to a grade above the pass line. While also leveling the field for when the list is formulated by score.  Once that padding of the process is completed you move on to the oral review board.  Here is where the rest of the charade takes place.  When you begin the oral review process your picture is taken.  Why this is done has never been explained except to say that when the boards meet to review your answers later they can remember what you look like.  I seem to remember the members of the boards I took writing notes the entire time.  Wouldn’t my candidate ID number or name be enough?  They have the notes they wrote at the time of my presentation.

What I have not covered yet is that the two boards you make your oral presentations to is always made up of one white and one minority officer.  Could this be why they need the picture to remind them of what the candidate look like?

To be sure the system has to change but Berkshire did not make it more fair.  They muddied the waters when they made this recommendation.

“Understandably the current promotional process is not designed to identify officers with this commitment and these skills”  I had no idea that this should be part of a promotional process for fighting fires.  They are however right about one thing.  Many of the rank and file firefighters don’t trust the promotional process or the Commissioner who is overseeing it.

When asked if the promotional process was fair 76% of the respondent to the Berkshire survey said they do not agree with that statement.  To make matters worse when asked if the right person was promoted 83.8% disagreed with that one.  Oh and before you say this number is strictly disgruntled white firefighters only 63% of those surveyed where white.  24% where black.  So that 83.8% number is a pretty damning statistic.

The promotional process in Philadelphia has been broken for a long time and it won’t get fixed without a change at the top.

Berkshire didn’t get it either.  Even though their own survey showed a large percentage of respondents were unhappy with the Commissioners.  You can read more about the survey results at the First In blog

There is more coming but for now we need to fix the promotion process for everybody.

One final thought, there are officers in some units in the department who got promoted without very much firefighting experience.  They were in staff positions as firefighters and now hold higher ranks and have not fought a fire in years.  How can you talk to a review board about putting out a fire you have not faced in years?  What will happen when these neophyte officers have to go back out to the streets and lead a fire suppression operation?  Lives are at stake.


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