Wednesday Morning – Who You Gonna Believe?
There are reasons why I normally do not rely on stories published online by the New York Post, and last week we saw a typical example of one of them that caused me to shy away for a bit. If other papers or tv stations already have their versions of a newsworthy event, then the Post sometimes offers a bit of added color or information and I will send it along with a story. But when the Post is the only source of a story, then it's buyer beware if you handle it.
The paper is noted for its slant for sensationalism and they use it to generate newsstand sales in their highly-competitive market. I haven't noticed them making up "facts" that don't exist like they do at the Washington Post and New York Times, but they take accurate statements and assemble them in such a way that a story becomes an eye-opener by leaving out other facts that would temper the story or even leave the reader with a different conclusion. Oftentimes one of their stories gets picked up by other news outlets and aggregators and it appears to the unwary public as if the "scandal" is sweeping the nation simply because so many other publications are repeating the same, single report on whatever the topic is.
This is apparently what happened last week when the Posties put out a hit job on the FDNY and their recent Probationary FF school that just completed. The headline in THE ARTICLE screams out: "Meet the seemingly unfailable female firefighter." The story is about a female recruit that was allowed to graduate even though she failed to complete the required 1-½ mile run in 12 minutes.
The story is loaded up with grabbers like,
Despite failing a required FDNY running test five times, Wendy Tapia was allowed to graduate from the Fire Academy and become a firefighter. On Dec. 2, she is taking the test for an unprecedented sixth time.
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Tapia, 31, has yet to work a shift at her firehouse, Engine No. 316 in East Elmhurst, Queens, where she was assigned May 18.
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The FDNY let her graduate anyway — and gave her five more deadlines over the past six months to pass the running test. She failed all five times, insiders said.
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Another insider said it also undermines confidence in the Fire Department. "If someone’s life is hanging on the line, you only get one try. There’s no do-overs when it’s for real," the insider said.
And so it goes, with no real attempt to balance the story with the FDNY's account of what's going on other than a couple of brief quotes from an initial inquiry.
Fast-forward now to this past Monday when the city's civil service news letter The Chief Leader posted a reply from the FDNY that includes the following statements among others:
Probie Wendy Tapia, whose name was leaked to the Post, broke a foot toward the end of her Fire Academy training this spring and was unable to pass the mile-and-a-half running test that new Firefighters must complete in 12 minutes.
An unnamed source told the Post the FDNY has given her too many chances because they "want their numbers"—a reference to the pressure a Federal Judge has put on the department to broaden its minority ranks after he found it guilty of decades of discrimination in hiring.
In a phone interview last week, UWF President Sarinya Srisakul called the characterization unfair. It’s not unusual for probationary firefighters to get injured during the rigorous academy training, she said, and the program’s administrators told Ms. Tapia not to take the final running test since she had a fracture.
In the meantime, although she joined the graduation ceremony with her peers, having passed all other tests until she was injured shortly before the end of the training period, Ms. Tapia’s ability to leave the Academy has always been contingent on her passing the exam, Ms. Srisakul said. But it takes additional physical therapy and training to get back in shape after a broken foot, which can significantly limit movement.
As for the test on Halloween, the FDNY and the UWF president said Ms. Tapia had an upper respiratory infection that was thoroughly vetted by FDNY doctors, who are more strict than outside physicians. No one is well-served when someone is tested while they’re ill, Ms. Srisakul said, but rather than demanding to reschedule, Ms. Tapia followed the informal code of the probationary Firefighter and tried to suck it up. (note: The only source that the Post quoted on this was another recruit who said that she had "a cold.")
"The mentality of a probie is that you don’t call in sick," Ms. Srisakul said. "She should have."
When she heard that Ms. Tapia had failed—by 23 seconds—the UWF leader petitioned the FDNY on her behalf for a reasonable accommodation due to illness, and she’ll be tested again in December.
Ms. Srisakul dismissed the idea that the department had passed her because she was a woman, noting that two others had been disqualified for underperformance during the academy.
"If the practice of the FDNY were to push through female candidates—regardless of their competence, just to have more numbers—the FDNY would have more than the 34 women on the force," she wrote in a letter to the Post. "Women account for 0.3 percent of the FDNY, which is one of the worst records for gender disparity in major metropolitan fire departments in the country."
An FDNY spokeswoman said, "While it is uncommon for a firefighter to take the test after graduation, Firefighter Wendy Tapia has been treated similarly to others who suffered an injury just before graduation and were unable to take/pass the run until after."
So there you have it. I'm not making any judgements on whose account is the one to be believed, other than to think that both of them are technically accurate. But which conclusion is to be drawn from the event is your choice to make and as you can see, you were initially denied that opportunity.
But we do have a grand opportunity to get our equipment checked out now, so let's get started on that while I get some trustworthy coffee going in the old reliable Bunn-O-Matic. See you back in the day room in a little bit.
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