War on women? Female recruit who failed physical test to join FDNY

This promises to turn into a sticky wicket for the New York City Fire Department. One of their upcoming graduates is going to be accepted into the ranks and go to work as a firefighter despite having failed a grueling physical test multiple times. This comes as a result of recent changes to the city’s criteria for how graduates are scored.

Rebecca Wax, 33, is set to graduate Tuesday from the Fire Academy without passing the Functional Skills Training test, a grueling obstacle course of job-related tasks performed in full gear with a limited air supply, an insider has revealed.

“They’re going to allow the first person to graduate without passing because this administration has lowered the standard,” said the insider, who is familiar with the training.

Upon graduation, Wax would be assigned to a firehouse and tasked with the full duties of a firefighter. Some FDNY members are angry.

“We’re being asked to go into a fire with someone who isn’t 100 percent qualified,” the source said. “Our job is a team effort. If there’s a weak link in the chain, either civilians or our members can die.”

We should start by noting that firefighter training is hard. Perhaps not on the level of Army Ranger training, but you’ve got to be in seriously good shape to get through it. The requirements for the test which Ms. Wax failed to complete include climbing in full gear while carrying heavy equipment, rescuing victims in zero visibility, breaking down doors, and doing it all while breathing oxygen from a tank on a limited timer. I’m fairly sure that if I tried it the next piece I’d be working on writing would be my obituary.

But still, those are the requirements for a very physical, demanding job. Or at least they used to be. Under pressure to hire more female firefighters, the city has changed their policy to balance the scholastic portions with the physical portions and you can get a high enough score to graduate without being able to complete the rigorous test described above. So is that fair, or does it weaken the force?

It’s not as if there aren’t any women who can do it, but their numbers are small. Only 44 of the current 10,500 firefighters in the Big Apple are female, due in no small part to the physical rigors of the testing. The military has had to deal with the same problem, but they seem to manage. But this isn’t the military, so how should New York proceed going forward? Their own firefighters – including some of the women – are upset that Wax is getting a pass on a test which they all had to succeed at to qualify. And when it comes time to face a serious emergency, is the public being served by lowering the standards just to achieve some mandated level of gender parity?

It seems to me that that the FDNY might be able to resolve this situation by more actively recruiting qualified female candidates. The fact that they already found some women from the home grown ranks who can meet the requirements tells me that there are probably more out there. But since they already loosened the requirements, the horse is out of the barn. The city government is now facing a nasty problem which is entirely of their own making.