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Firefight: The Century-Long Battle to Integrate the New York City Fire Department

In the following article Ginger Adams Otis, a staff writer at the New York Daily News and a longtime city reporter, describes her more-than-decade-long research following the evolution of a landmark civil rights case brought by the Vulcan Society, a determined group of activist black New York City firefighters. In 2005 the Vulcan Society sued the Fire Department of New York (FDNY) and the then-Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, for racial discrimination. The lawsuit was settled in the Vulcans’ favor in 2010. It took until 2013, however, for hiring to begin again. At the same time, the city and FDNY challenged the part of the ruling that found them guilty of intentional discrimination. The parties were getting ready to take that particular claim to trial again when Mayor Bill De Blasio came to power in 2014. Within three months, the city reached an accord with the Vulcans to settle the intentional discrimination lawsuit. While following the case, Adams discovered the incredible stories of the first African Americans who joined the fire department, beginning with William Nicholson who joined the department in 1889. Otis wrote Firefight: The Century-Long Battle to Integrate New York’s Bravest to describe the history of black firemen in the New York City Fire Department.  

In 2004 my first regular reporting gig for a newspaper in New York City, New York was for a century-old broadsheet known as The Chief-Leader. Owned by the same family since the early 1900s, The Chief, as it was called, dedicated itself to covering the city’s municipal workforce. My job was to report on all things related to the Fire Department of New York (FDNY).

On my first day, my boss tossed a press release on my desk and told me to get moving. A group of black firefighters known as the Vulcan Society, which I had never heard of before, was going to be holding a press conference on the steps of City Hall. Intrigued, I picked up a notepad, grabbed a pen, and took off.

I was one of just a few reporters who showed up that day. Undoubtedly,

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