Quotas in the
San Francisco Fire Department
A report on ten years of
by Ray Batz
hy does the fireman slide down the pole? To get from the dormitory to his
truck as quickly as possible. This is child's-play, even fun for most of
the class of 36 who went through 15 weeks of training for the San Francisco
Fire Department (SFFD) beginning in July, 1997. But one member of the class
opted out of the century-old brass-pole slide. Why? She is afraid.
This is part of the legacy of federal judge Marilyn Patel of the California
Northern District Court, a Jimmy Carter appointee and former lawyer for
the ACLU. Well known for her social-engineering decisions, she has halted
the firefighting careers of scores of white men in favor of less-qualified
minorities and women.
In 1988 she issued a consent decree, demanding a 40 percent minority
and 10 percent female fire department. This, she said, would make up for
past discrimination. Indeed, women had not been allowed in the SFFD, but
nothing prevented minorities from applying. The first black joined in 1955;
the first Asian two years later, and there has been a sprinkling of Hispanics
since the turn of the century. Though proof of racial discrimination was
supposedly necessary, it was never found; Judge Patel shoved her consent
decree down the throat of the SFFD anyway.
Women on the Force
In order to
hire women, the department had to throw out all the old strength standards
and replace them with "tests" that wouldn't stress the average teen-age
boy. One such test requires the applicant to raise a 24-foot wooden ladder
to vertical. To make it easier for the new breed of diverse firefighters,
the base of the ladder is attached to the ground with a metal hinge.
No one seems worried that there are no metal hinges bolted to the sidewalks
in front of buildings in San Francisco.
Another test requires the applicant to drag a 40-pound cloth dummy across
a polished cement floor and out the door. Needless to say, the average
person removed from a burning building weighs a lot more than 40 pounds
and may prefer to be carried rather than dragged. If there is any dragging
it is usually across a wet carpet.
One local paper called
her the Jackie Robinson of the SFFD, who had cracked that old devil, the
Physical strength is important not just for getting the job done but
for staying alive. Firefighting ranks high among the most dangerous professions
in the country, and only the ideologically blinded fail to realize that
it takes stringent physical and mental standards to keep death and injury
rates down. When reporters asked former New York City Mayor Ed Koch about
ethnic diversity in his department, he said he was more interested in whether
someone could get a 200-pound mayor out of a burning building.
San Francisco, it appears, was not listening.
I remember when the first Asian woman was hired in the early 1990s –
it was front-page news. One local paper called her the Jackie Robinson
of the SFFD, who had cracked that old devil, the color line. Her first
fire – a smoldering sofa and the wall behind it, which could have been
handled with a five-gallon portable pump can – revealed the truth. When
she and her crew got back to quarters they sat with coffee and, following
custom, critiqued their performance at the fire. While they talked, she
sat alone, near tears, asking herself why she had chosen this terrible
job, moaning about her frightening experience.
At her next fire, she was part of the first engine company to
arrive at a small hotel with the fire confined to one set of rooms. Realizing
how shaky our Asian-American heroine actually was, her officer gave her
the least dangerous assignment. As they rushed in the front door she was
to connect one end of a 100-foot hose to a standpipe water outlet in the
hallway while they took the business end directly to the rooms on fire.
As they crouched in the doorway waiting for the water, it began to heat
up. "Give us the water; where's the damn water?" they yelled down the hall
to the woman.
The water never came. It got so hot the men were driven from the building,
barely able to save their hose. They found the woman outside wandering
around doing make-work – picking up axes and straightening hose. Naturally
they wanted to know why she hadn't given them water. She said she had been
told in training that if it gets too hot, just leave. So she left her crew
in the hot spot without even connecting to the water source.
Thankfully, she has been taken from the field and given the position
of fire prevention inspector. This much-desired job entails no night work,
no danger, brings a 10 percent raise and is awarded only after months of
study and successful performance on a competitive examination. Somehow,
she never had to take the test.
Then there was the first Hispanic woman firefighter, another prodigy.
In the early 1990s when a local San Francisco Spanish television station
heard that she had graduated from the Division of Training and had been
assigned to a station in a Hispanic neighborhood, they sent a crew to film
this Latina role model during her daily drills. After she dropped the most
light-weight ladder (the 24-ft. wooden fire escape ladder) on her own head
for the third time, they politely excused themselves and left.
Her training supervisor asked her if she would like him to design a
weight- training program so she could improve her strength. She didn't
answer. Instead she made two telephone calls; one to her lawyer and one
to the fire department EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) officer
with whom she filed a sexism complaint against her supervisor for suggesting
she lacked strength. During her 15-week session at the Division of Training
her supervisors said she was too weak to be a firefighter but their recommendation
that she be terminated was ignored.
At present, this lady holds the fourth highest rank in the SFFD, having
been hand-picked by the black, politically correct, Chief of the Department
to head the diversity training programs for the SFFD. Her accelerated promotion
from "lieutenant" (also an affirmative action quota gift promotion) to
Deputy Assistant Chief was an unparalleled four-rank leap. It took her
only eight years to rise to the lofty station of fourth in command in a
1,500-member department – a level rarely reached in fewer than 20 years
and only through competitive examination.
One woman could not
break a sheetrock wall with the standard 8-pound ax.
Apparently the pressure is proving too much for her. She has been stopped
twice by the police for drunk driving. Both times she was in uniform, behind
the wheel of an official fire department sedan. First-time on-duty drunk
driving normally carries a penalty of 60 days without pay; a second offense
has been known to result in termination. So far, this inspiration to womanhood,
hired and promoted far beyond her knowledge and experience, has suffered
The undeserved weight of command has taken a toll on other women officers
as well. One lady lieutenant and the engine crew she commanded were first
to arrive at a house fire in a living room over a garage. Standard SFFD
practice required her to take her crew with hoses up the front stairs,
kick in the door, and put out the fire. She made a chicken-hearted assessment
and changed tactics. After telling her crew to "Get back, it's too hot,"
she ordered them to attempt to break the living room windows with the hose
stream, hoping the water would magically find its way to the fire. It didn't;
in fact the windows wouldn't even break.
The second-arriving lieutenant and his crew knew what to do. They shouldered
her aside, took her hose from her, ran up the stairs, kicked in the door
and put out the fire. The embarrassed woman officer did the expected and
filed a complaint with the department's EEOC office, claiming that the
brutish crew made sexist remarks when they took her hose and put out the
fire. Back in quarters, following the fire, the cowardly woman officer,
thinking she was alone, was seen in tears, muttering to herself and punching
herself in the face. At the next annual SFFD charity chili cook-off, one
group of chefs wanted to use her warning, "Get back, it's too hot!" as
their motto but decided against it for fear of another EEOC complaint.
There was another lady lieutenant who was so short she couldn't push
the overhead door to the compartment containing the portable air packs
to the open position above her head. The door kept coming down on her helmeted
head and she couldn't take her air pack from its storage rack. When passersby
noticed her plight, they began to giggle and make unflattering remarks.
This caused the young officer such distress she abandoned her air pack,
went around to the other side of the hook and ladder, sat on the running
board, and hid. She never joined her crew inside the burning building.
I once had the unique experience of working alongside a woman who could
not break a sheetrock wall with her standard 8-pound ax. Her lieutenant
became so vexed that he broke the wall with the back of his hand. In my
30-year career in the SFFD I never saw another firefighter unable to break
sheetrock with an ax. For decades, the upper age limit for hiring was 33,
yet this remarkably unfit woman had been hired at age 44; her previous
job was decorating cakes. As an indication of how reliable she is, she
was recently nick-named, "Defective Equipment."
Dumbing the Tests
The problem for minorities – blacks especially – has not been the physical
but the mental demands of the job. For decades a test comparable to a college
entrance exam guaranteed that the SFFD hired and promoted only men with
well above-average intelligence. The need to increase the number of minority
firefighters, many of whom fail even basic intelligence tests, means that
the written exam has been notoriously dumbed down. Now one test question
actually asks: "Which is more difficult, pushing a wheelbarrow up a ramp
or on the flat?"
In the early 1980s race and testing mischief took a tortured turn
when, for the first time, San Francisco hired an outside testing company
at a cost of $250,000 to design the promotional exam for the rank of lieutenant
– the lowest supervisory rank. In the past, the Civil Service Testing Office
had made up all promotional examinations for the city, but this was to
be a special exercise to eliminate "racial bias" in the lieutenant's exam.
The testing company interviewed firefighters for weeks to determine
the proper questions for the examination. It asked every ethnic firefighter
association, the firefighters union, and representatives from City Hall
to evaluate the new exam to see if it was race-neutral. Everyone agreed
that it was.
The test was given and scored. Approximately one third of the Asian,
Hispanic and white test-takers passed, but only 12 percent of the blacks.
The Black Firefighters' Association (BFA), which had previously agreed
that the test was race-neutral, now decided it was biased, but only against
blacks. A judge agreed, and made the city come up with a promotion plan
more equitable to blacks.
The city agreed to pick names at random from the 330 highest-scoring
finishers, but only a Fire Department Assistant Chief and the black female
attorney representing the BFA would do it – behind closed doors. When the
"random selection" was over, only non-whites had moved up the list, and
whites had only moved down. One white went from 15th to 75th place. The
names of some whites simply disappeared and were replaced with the names
of low-scoring non-whites. One of the unjustly promoted benefited from
having one Pacific Island great-grand parent.
One black "lieutenant" was returning from a fire drill with his engine
crew when he noticed (possibly for the first time) the lake just south
of San Francisco from which the city gets its water (for fire hydrants,
too). He turned to his engine driver and asked if that was the [Pacific]
"ocean" or "the [San Francisco] bay." The lake is about 300 yards across.
Another quota-hire lieutenant told his engine crew to respond to an
alarm in a parking lot and look for a "Cadillac." The computer print-out
in his hand plainly said to look for a "cardiac," that is to say, a heart-attack
Some incidents of intellectual failure have been more frightening. When
looking for a way to get from the roof of an adjoining building to a burning
hotel, a black quota-hire lieutenant ordered one of his crew to jump across
the span separating the structures. They were 4 stories above the ground
and everyone had already been evacuated from the burning hotel. The firefighter
refused to obey the ridiculous order.
In the spring
of 1996 at a wind-whipped house fire, the actions of two quota-hires may
have resulted in serious consequences: One firefighter died and another
is permanently disabled. The first hook and ladder arrived lacking one
of its crew, a black woman. She later admitted she wanted to get a sound
sleep, so she went to bed wearing ear-plugs and didn't hear the alarm.
At the same fire, the non-white driver of the first engine company, probably
coddled through the training course, could not figure out how to deliver
water from his pumper to the seat of the fire. Whether the failures of
these two quota hires positively caused the two tragedies is not certain,
but they didn't help.
So what has the department learned, since the consent decree, about
how to hire firemen? In November, 1996, 7,000 men and women sat for the
watered-down SFFD written entrance examination. Three months later a list
of the highest scoring 2,100 was released. In July, 1997, the first group
of 36 recruits began the 15-week training course at the Fire Department's
Division of Training.
Not surprisingly, only 12 of the 36 had actually placed among the top
36 on the examination. The remaining 24 were hand-picked from the list
of 2,100 – also-rans selected to fill race and sex quotas. Naturally, not
one of the anointed 24 is a white man. Fifteen of the training class were
women, though only three women placed in the top 36.
Scores for the hand-picked 24 ranged from 45th place (Asian male) to
59th (Asian male) to 95th (white female) to 248th (Asian female) to 631st
place (black female). To get their last black woman the ethnic and gender
bean counters dropped all the way to 954th place.
This is what the department does in order to strike a racial "balance"
In that class of 36 there were five white men and five white women. In
the next training class of 42, there were also five white men and five
white women. In the third training class of 42 – undergoing training this
summer – there are only four white men.
What does this sort of preference mischief mean in real, human terms?
One young white man placed in the top 30 out of the pool of 7,000. Two
of his close relatives were San Francisco firemen. He is an outstanding
athlete, having captained and quarterbacked his high school football team.
Though it is not required, he had prepared for the SFFD by earning a two-year
degree in Fire Science, and is certified as an Emergency Medical Technician.
This man, who had been preparing literally all his life for the job was
passed over for a woman who, it now turns out, is afraid to slide down
Fortunately, he was included in the next training class.
When a firefighter-in-training fails any of the physical tests requiring
a partner, he or she may select a specific partner for the mandatory re-test.
During one afternoon of retesting, no fewer than 13 undermuscled women
chose this young athlete to help them get through their tests. Remarkably,
even the politically correct instructors told the next batch of weaklings
to pick someone else.
Eye-witnesses report that this class averages only two standard pull-ups.
When certain members of the class practice lifting and raising the 6-man,
425 pound, 50-foot wooden extension ladder, the instructors must remove
the fly (the extendible portion) so that feeble trainees can lift the fire
department's most versatile ladder. This eliminates nearly one-third of
its weight but virtually negates its usefulness.
Obviously, the SFFD has learned nothing from the manifest foolishness
of its hiring policy. It is run by people who think like Gloria Steinem
who, in a recent television interview, said she didn't care if women were
not strong enough to carry people over their shoulders out of burning buildings.
Presumably she would be happy to be dragged down stairs by her ankles,
banging her head on each step, so long as she is dragged by a woman.
Rewards via the Courts
The consciousness of race and sex that now pervades the department has
proven to be a remarkable temptation for minority and women firefighters
looking for financial rewards via the courts. A copy of Playboy
on a dormitory table becomes sexual harassment. A reference to eating watermelon
becomes racial discrimination, as does demanding that a minority fire inspector
show up on time at the office. If you ask real questions when a "facilitator"
is conducting a diversity workshop, that's racial intimidation.
There have been hundreds of complaints filed with the department's EEOC
office in the last decade. Each incident must be investigated according
to EEOC guidelines, each investigation takes weeks, and each costs the
SFFD nearly $20,000. Most months there are a dozen or more on-going investigations.
These terrible costs have so compromised the firefighting budget that the
department no longer has enough money for uniforms and safety shoes.
Some investigations have paid off handsomely for those who can find
"racism" around every corner. In the late 1980s, when the four blacks in
a training class of 30 were repeatedly making perfect scores on the weekly
written exams yet failing their field trials, an investigation revealed
that a black instructor had been giving them the test questions ahead of
time. When this stopped, test scores for the blacks nose-dived. Neither
the instructor nor the four cheaters were reprimanded. But the last laugh
was theirs. A couple of years after graduating from the Division of Training
the four filed an EEOC complaint, claiming that they had been unfairly
stigmatized as "cheaters." A court ruled in their favor and the
City of San Francisco was forced to give each of them $35,000.
One of the most firmly-held convictions of the race quota-mongers is
that occupations must precisely reflect the percentage of each ethnic minority
in the community. Yet,
while San Francisco has only an eight percent black population, the officer
ranks in the SFFD are 34 percent black. Overall, the black SFFD membership
has achieved 132 percent of the original consent decree goal while the
Asian firefighter goal lags at only 58 percent. Early this year the Asian
American Firefighters Association hired a lawyer to present this fact before
the Fire Commission, but black favoritism in hiring continues unabated.
There is no more glaring example of the pro-black, anti-Asian bias than
the November 1997 hiring of the son of a black Assistant Chief (a high
rank he achieved through preferential promotions). Fifty-two Asian applicants
(and quite a few others) got higher test scores than the black, but he
was hired and they were not. Midway through the 15-week training course
he hurt himself and could not do field drills and exercises. In the past,
an injured recruit would be washed out and allowed to come back for the
next class, but this son of a quota-hire black chief was put on "light
duty" for the remainder of the training class and graduated to the field
after "completing" his training.
The present Chief of the SFFD is the former president of the Black Firefighters'
Association. He was appointed by San Francisco's black mayor, Willie Brown.
He thinks the selection process is still "biased" and wants to eliminate
the written examination entirely. He says he will institute what he calls
a "West Point-style" process of classroom teaching and volunteering. Applicants
completing this training will then be "randomly" assigned a number by computer,
and the department will then hire the lowest numbers. One can only guess
at the abysmal depths to which the SFFD will sink if it is to hire firefighters
There may be important reasons for this. Judge Patel has promised that
after 10 grueling years, her consent decree is to end on Nov. 1 of this
year. Mayor Brown says that "the [preference] process is now institutionalized
to ensure that no matter which administration is in charge at City Hall,
the San Francisco Fire Department always reflects the diversity that is
uniquely San Francisco."
In 1996, the people of California approved Proposition 209, which forbids
sex and race preferences in hiring. When a federal court order ends, a
city or county falls under that prohibition. If the SFFD finally does abandon
race and sex preferences, random selection may be the only way for Willie
Brown and his friends to get what they want.
In 1996 Mr. Batz retired after 30 years in the SFFD. While he was
still on active duty he wrote about firefighting for the Jan. 1996 AR under
the pen-name of Robert Charles.
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