Minority Firefighters Vow Post-Ricci Unity

by Melissa Bailey | June 25, 2009 7:40 AM | | Comments (24)

cordovarawlings.pngIn the final days before the Supreme Court rules on a racially divisive promotion case, some black and Hispanic firefighters vowed to put the Ricci case behind them and proceed in solidarity.

The Greater New Haven NAACP hosted a press conference Wednesday evening with firefighters, city black and Latino political leaders, as well as the head of the International Association of Hispanic Firefighters. The event followed a series of discussions prompted by “racial and ethnic tensions caused by the Ricci v DeStefano lawsuit,” according to the NAACP. About eight black firefighters attended, as well as the city’s new corporation counsel, Victor Bolden.

In Ricci, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule Monday on whether the city unconstitutionally denied promotions to 20 New Haven firefighters — 19 white, one Hispanic — because no black candidates scored high enough on a test. The case has become a national lightning rod in the debate on racial hiring.

The case has “pitted racial and ethnic groups against each other at the New Haven Fire Department,” read a statement sent out by the NAACP before Wednesday afternoon’s event. Assistant Drillmaster Rene Cordova (pictured), president of the New Haven Hispanic Firefighters Association, joined a series of speakers in pledging to move forward from the case, regardless of the outcome.

“We’re here because we need to really get joined together as a department, as members of the department, and make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Cordova said.

Notably absent at the Wednesday coming-together event were any other local Hispanic firefighters. Only Cordova made it to the rainy press conference at Fair Haven’s Criscuolo Park. He said he was not there to represent that organization, but was merely speaking for himself.

The event was held at symbolic juncture for the two minority groups: At a monument for African-American Civil War soldiers at Criscuolo Park, in the heart of the city’s Latino community.

“It’s in our best interest to work together,” said Hill Alderman Jorge Perez, president of the aldermanic Black and Hispanic Caucus, regardless of what happens with the Ricci case. He stressed the importance of revamping the city’s flawed testing process.

rawlings.png“There was some healing that had to be done within the firefighters, both Hispanic and African-American,” before a Ricci ruling came out, said James Rawlings (pictured), the head of the Greater New Haven NAACP. He helped mediate a series of meetings over the past year between the black firefighters in the New Haven Firebirds organization and their Hispanic counterparts. The goal of the meetings, he said, was to help the groups find common ground on “civil rights advancement” and to build a better future for their children.

Terry Roundtree, vice-president of the Firebirds, expressed optimism about the new peace pact.

“We face a lot of things together as minorities, and for us to be divided and separated is not a good thing,” he said. “From this day forward, hopefully, we can work together” and find common ground.

To amplify their message, organizers invited Ronald Morales, president of the International Association of Hispanic Firefighters. In a March 25 amicus brief, the group publicly sided with the city in the Ricci case, supporting a stand taken by the New Haven Firebirds. The move came on the heels of a similar brief from the International Association of Professional Black Firefighters, which called the Ricci suit an “attack on minority firefighters.”

“Entrenched” Power

Even after the international Hispanic group took a stance, local Latino firefighters have remained mum on the subject. Questioned by reporters Wednesday, Cordova declined to take a position on Ricci. He has repeatedly said his group is not political and intends to stay out of the Ricci fray

When pressed , he described how the city sought his group’s support in throwing out the promotional test, but said he didn’t take the “bait.” He and an active member of the Latino group expressed support for the New Haven 20, though his colleague would only do so without being named.

ronmorales.pngMorales (pictured) said he took an interest in the case because one of the plaintiffs, Ben Vargas, is Hispanic. As the case got hurled into the national spotlight, Morales and others wanted to make sure that people didn’t think Vargas was “speaking for all Hispanics.”

“He’s doesn’t speak for the Latin firefighters in the country or the city,” said Morales, who lives in Connecticut and worked as a firefighter in Bridgeport. He said it’s important to take a stand on the suit because if the Supreme Court decision weakens Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that could affect hiring practices at firehouses across the nation, for minorities and women alike.

Morales said that blacks and Hispanics have a common interest in breaking up an “entrenched” white-dominated power structure.

“The fire service is the last bastion that’s controlled by the Caucasian male,” he said. Firefighting has remained the most segregated civil service job, as other other lines of work like the police and postal service have become more integrated, he said.

Asked if he agreed with the “last bastion” comment, Cordova declined to take a stance.

“He must have some information I don’t know about,” he replied. “I really don’t know,”

Minorities are underrepresented on the city firefighting force, though not as severely as in, for example, New York City, where at a recent count, 91 percent were white men.

The latest available demographic figures for the New Haven fire force are from September 2008, when there were 336 sworn officers, said city spokesman Adam Joseph.

At that time, the force was 15 percent Hispanic, 28 percent black and 57 percent white.

The city is 24 percent Hispanic, 36 percent black, and 44 percent white, according to the latest government survey.


Recent tension has emerged over how the two groups have responded to the Ricci case. The Firebirds came out strongly in favor of the city’s stance. Latinos on the force have kept quiet.

“There is a silence in New Haven,” explained Cordova, “because [the suit] is very complicated.” If the city is forced to make promotions from the lieutenant and captains’ tests, a few Hispanics stand to rise in rank, according to Cordova. (The results have not been made public).

“My understanding is that three Hispanics would have been in supervisory positions,” he said. “What do you do, slam them?”

Cordova said members of his group, who generally did not see the test as a racial issue, chose not to take a stance.

“If I were to take a stand today, would that really change anything?” Cordova asked.

Cordova was asked why more of his Latino colleagues didn’t attend Wednesday’s event. He said he told about 10 people about the event, but his group is not political, and the event was put together at the last minute. At least one person who wanted to come couldn’t make it due to work obligations.

“I don’t know if a lot of guys actually knew about it,” he said.

Those at Wednesday’s event were pressed to identify specific ways that black and Hispanic firefighters plan to collaborate after the NAACP-mediated peace talks.

IMG_3761.jpgGary Tinney (pictured after the rain let up), president of the Firebirds, said he hopes for more cross-cultural collaboration on community service and safety events, which black and Latino firefighters have been holding separately.

He also said both groups must work together to encourage minority city kids to take an interest in firefighting as a profession. He said one idea that was discussed at the meeting is starting a program like the Police Explorers where city high school students would take classes in fire science.

Cordova is personally involved in a similar program that the city runs through the Board of Ed. The program trains high school students to become EMTs, which is a critical step towards becoming a firefighter.

He said he’d love to start up a program like the one Tinney suggested, but he doesn’t find it practical. The city would have to buy firefighting equipment for the kids, not to mention incur liability, he said.

Without the hands-on training, the classes wouldn’t be worth much, he added.

“What would we watch, videos? Or look at pictures?” he asked. “It’s one thing to talk about firefighting, but it’s another thing to do it.”

Past stories on fire department promotions and the Ricci case:
Ricci Ruling Won’t End Quest
Ricci, Sotomayor Brand DeStefano
Firefighter Case Reveals Surprise Obama Stand
Justices Zero In On Race-Based Distinctions
Rights Groups Back Black Firefighters
The Supreme Stakes: Title VII’s Future
Dobbs v. Bolden
Latino Group Backs White Firefighters
Black Firefighters: Ricci Case Poses Grave Threat
NAACP Backs City In Firefighter Case
Paging Justice Kennedy
Fire Inspectors Promoted
Fire Inspector List Approved
U.S. Supreme Court To Hear Firefighters’ Case
Fire Promotions Examined in Supreme Court

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Posted by: Walt | June 25, 2009 9:12 AM


The NAACP, once a respected fighter for equal treatment, now appears just a lackey for those who want everything given to them, even if they do not want to make the effort to earn it.

Would the old respected lesders like, Bob Bowles, Chuck Turner, Rev. Hampton, Dr. Smith, Ed Grant, and many other fighters- for- equality be part of the current NAACP which now searches for new racist complaints each week?

Who knows?

Posted by: get a clue | June 25, 2009 10:03 AM

Tinney has always been and remains a divisve individual in the department. Why weren't white firefighters invited? Are they not needed for unity?

Posted by: Resident | June 25, 2009 10:27 AM

All I'm concerned with is competent fire fighters should my (or my neighbor's) house catch fire. I'm not going to care about their skin color, religious affiliation or sexual preferences.

Posted by: DAFeder | June 25, 2009 10:27 AM

Walt, was there something edited out of your post that would indicate that you actually read the article?

Let me sum up some points you may have missed: 1) the NAACP is calling for reconciliation between people on different sides of the Ricci case. 2) Those people "who want everything given to them" worked hard to get a job running into burning buildings.


Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 25, 2009 10:28 AM

ok maybe it is me, but United?? would there have not have been at the least more then one Latina firefighter there if they where united. and how many black firefighters were there??? And why were the white and Asian ones not invited? would that not be true unity? hmmm please explain to me so my small mind can grasp it. All I see is New haven naacp leaders trying to do a PR thing to glorify themselves not the people they represent?? Sorry but that is all they seem to do lately? (at least in my eyes) They promote the divide

Posted by: City Hall Watch | June 25, 2009 10:44 AM

What will unite these groups including white firefighters is an acknowledgement that knowlege testing is important and skin color is not; that hard work and committment to excellence physically and mentally is what will fuel promotions, not political agendas, and most definitely not the color of one's skin.

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 25, 2009 11:58 AM

No decision today, it will be on Monday.

Posted by: Tina Parker | June 25, 2009 12:13 PM

i really feel if you are going to help someone, why not help the women and children in shelters in New Haven. We moving from shelter to shelter and when places like this come up we are last to know.

Posted by: Aliot | June 25, 2009 12:37 PM

Morales needs to butt out of this and mind his own business. He DOES NOT speak for Hispanics in the NHFD and his group (the one that filed the amicus brief) is a fledgling little band that represents only a few people and it was started by Morales. That Int'l Assoc. of Hispanic firefighters is really just Morales and a few others in a couple of cities - it DOES NOT represent the views of Latino firefighters. Ben Vargas and Louis Rivera of the NHFD got screwed out of promotions to Captain because of the actions of Gary Tinney and a few disgrunteld Firebirds ... Morales should NOT be siding with Tinney against fellow Hispanics. And who listens to Morales anyhow? ...

Posted by: lance | June 25, 2009 1:03 PM

tinney please.

Posted by: LtMike | June 25, 2009 1:26 PM

The key stats to look at are 2 out of 3 chiefs on the third floor are minority (66%); Training school is 4 out of 4 minority, including EMS-5 (100%). As far as the city to job demographics they are moving rapidly in what can be considered the right direction. I am not going to at this time take the officer (Capt and Lt) demographics (I don't have the time), but they are pretty close as well to the city breakdown. Every effort is made in TODAYS world not to discriminate against minorities, this is a different era (hence the president). My question is how do we test then and don't give me an oral only as the answer or you might as well just pick out of a hat. Gary and other minorities that tested and got promoted never once had a problem with the 60% written 40% oral breakdown. There was no push to change anything, if there was I never heard about it nor read about it, so why the change now. You want uniting, but pushed to throw out an exam. The stand up thing to do was to push for changes on FUTURE exams, not take a stance AFTER results and state how minorities don't do well in this format. So you are stating that you did not do well on the entrance level exam or officer exam(s) you were promoted on. Were those positions just given to you then? I am all for a cohesive workplace, but the spin has to stop!

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 25, 2009 2:25 PM


Posted by: V | June 25, 2009 4:44 PM

Shouldn't all the firefighters be united? Not just the minority ones?

I don't know if this attitude speaks more poorly of the black and latino firefighters for emphasizing how different and special they are, or the white firefighters for not holding their own, non-pigmented unity rally.

And how many east asians/south asians are on the force? Don't the blacks and latinos care about those people, too?

Posted by: byhook and crook | June 25, 2009 5:03 PM

Someone need to look deeper into this Morales organization. Something smells really fishy about a 510C3 that only has on officer Morales listed on the structure of the organization...

Posted by: Walt | June 25, 2009 6:51 PM


Apparently the editors do not like my descriptions of current NAACP guys, although they did leave in the names of several respected (by me anyway) black leaders of the past.

Suggest you read the posts by East Rock, City Hall, Resident. V, and Aliot.

They say it well, and are apparently more acceptable to Independent honchos, who areusually more tolerant of my views than they are this time.

Such is life!

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | June 26, 2009 10:04 AM

Don't believe the hype. Gary Tinney and his chronies have misrepresented the FACTS to the NAACP and all these other organizations. There was nothing wrong with either of those exams accept that Tinney and his chronies weren't going to be promoted. He politicked to his sister, his father in law, Boise Kimber, the NAACP and anyone else who would listen. They made back door deals and ABUSED title VII and affirmative action laws. If his supporters knew the truth about these exams or the truth behind this mans character they would be embarassed for supporting this cause. Everyone cries foul about the exams. There are no complaints on file before they were administered, no complaints after they were given. The complaints came after the city had a closed door meeting with the firebirds and the NHHFFS, then the city held a public meeting where they distributed race coded result sheets and started the kangaroo court process that scuttled the exams. Tinney crying over spilt milk and his obvious short comings robbed at least 5 hard earned promotions from deserving minorities. This is the man these organizations believe and support? Him and Morales who's employment with the Bridgeport fire department was terminated? Think and do some homework ...

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | June 26, 2009 1:43 PM

Hey ltmike, don't forget the Fire Marshals office, 3 white, 3 minorities (50%) more factual numbers the powers that be choose to ignore in order to portray the NHFD as "the last bastion controlled by the caucasion male" get a grip....

Posted by: Thinkaboutit | June 26, 2009 4:00 PM

Funny how the independent editor keeps cutting off my comments. All I am trying to say Paul is that individuals such as Tinney and Morales blatantly lie to achieve public support. They make the fire department look like it is some "good ole boy" network run by the whites. (and the media just takes the ball and runs with it) This is far from the case. Look at the Chiefs office(66% black) the Training division (100% minority) the Fire marshalls office (50% minority) and alot of these positions have been filled in the last few years.
They preach some great racial divide on the fire department that is just not there. Firefighters in New Haven go to work and do there jobs everyday. It is the extremists (maybe 1%) on both sides who at worst don't speak to eachother unless they have to. Someone show me a diverse group of over 300 men and women who all get along, it has everything to do with personality and very little to do with race.
And Where were the other 95% of the minority firefighters for this "crucial" rally? Fact of the matter is most of them don't even support the Tinney / Morales crusade.
And I'll word this as a rhetorical question (so the NHI editors don't get upset)
What do you think the ultimate goal of Tinney and Morales is?
Hint: it is NOT equality

Posted by: Concerned | June 27, 2009 6:00 AM

Pretend equality?! Is there such a thing?

Posted by: kamb | June 27, 2009 7:34 AM

...You want Unity?! Then why belong to an organization that hightlights a specific race?

It's 2009! We have a black president elected mostly by whites. I hope the NAACP and Tinney realize that people should be evaluated on their scores NOT THEIR SKIN COLOR!

Posted by: cedarhillresident [TypeKey Profile Page] | June 27, 2009 8:40 AM

I can;t see them making a decision on the case I am guessing it is going to be hand to yet another court!

Posted by: veryconcerned | June 28, 2009 2:04 PM

So if a firefighter studies and passes the test, then is told oops not enought minorities passed the test, who may or may not have studied hard enougth as he or she, we need to throw out your score and start again. What if that happened to a person of color, white green blue black tan , and said oops your score does not count and needs to be thrown out so we can let other factions take the tes and pass without hard work or study. Who would be yelling then. AGAIN, YOU STUDY YOU PASS, DON'T STUDY AND LEARN THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF BEING A GREAT FIREMAN, THEN YOU DO NOT DESERVE THE JOB OR TITLE OF BEING A FIREMAN IN THE CITY OF NEW HAVEN, WHERE LIVES ARE ON THE LINE EVERYTIME THAT ALARM GOES OFF.

Posted by: Walt | June 29, 2009 8:04 AM

Seems to me the old NAACP would be funding (or seeking funds for ) motivational training for minorities, and providing tutoring re the books related to the test, so that minorities would be ready to compete, and not always be winding up with the lowest scores.

The current NAACP, both local and State, just whines, makes excuses for poor performance, and connives against those folks who really did study, and really did, justly, come out on top.

Posted by: Pedro d'Ibazo | June 29, 2009 11:05 AM

Shouldn't ALL firefighters be "united". Not just those with a similar skin colors? I wish my fellow Latinos would not participate in this racial division. It is really shameful. We need to put this painful chapter behind us. If minority candidates need help with exams, then let them get it. But it was dead wrong to discriminate purely on race, and we need to move behind that now.

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