Fire dept. begins giving exams after settlement

November 1, 2011 11:07:47 AM PDT
Years after being passed over because of a discriminatory exam, hundreds of black firefighter candidates are getting another chance to join the Chicago Fire Department Tuesday.

The testing comes on the heels of a court ruling that settled a massive class action lawsuit filed against the city. Thousands of African-Americans say a fire department test in 1995 was not fair and cost them jobs.

The legal battle led all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled last year in favor of the thousands of African-Americans who took the Chicago Fire Department's entrance exam in 1995.

As part of settlement in the lawsuit, the fire department has invited nearly a 1,000 candidates from the 1995 exam to begin the process of becoming Chicago firefighters.

The first 111 candidates to pass the department's physical abilities requirements, drug tests, background checks and medical exams will get jobs with the Chicago Fire Department.

Those who do not get fire department jobs could still get money as part of the settlement.

The exam Tuesday has been a long time coming for hundreds of African-Americans who dreamed of becoming firefighters. It was 15 years ago at the United Center that they joined thousands of others to take the test. They passed all the requirements, but because of the way the exam was scored, most African-Americans were passed over for the coveted fire department jobs, in favor of white applicants.

Firefighter candidate Robert Herron, 37, told ABC7 Chicago he was excited and ready to show his strength Tuesday as he reported for a physical abilities test at 8 a.m. The South Sider said he had hopes of becoming a firefighter for the last 15 years, ever since he was denied for the job.

"Some of us were discriminated against or treated unfairly. So, justice is being served," said Herron.

The Chicago Fire Department's age limit for new hires is 38 years old, but that will not apply to the 111 candidates who will ultimately be hired.

"I think I could help out a lot. I think I could do a lot being a firefighter," firefighter candidate James Collins said.

Naturally, some candidates arrived to the physical abilities test Tuesday with a few nerves.

"It is years later. Some people have put on weight, you know, aren't as strong as we were back then. So, it's not as fair as we would have liked for it to have been, but I still appreciate the opportunity," Herron said.

"Just butterflies right now. Just hoping that everything turns out well," said Katherine Godfrey.

The first round of testing began at 8 a.m., but several start times were staggered throughout the day.

Testing was scheduled to continue for the next four days.