FDNY Hopefuls Fear Virus Could Derail Their Dreams

With a city budget in tatters and hiring plans in flux, some FDNY hopefuls fear their dreams of becoming a New York firefighter may be dashed for good.

Last February, Jordan Tymony was a few weeks away from graduating from the fire academy in his hometown of Wichita, Kansas. He said he completed a ride-along with one of the busiest stations in the city to prove himself to the veterans, and possibly get assigned to a station with one of the best reputations in the city right out of the academy.

“And they were just busting my balls all day,” he said. “But they were good guys, you know. I was like, ‘Wow, I think this was the crew I could potentially work with if I get assigned and stay in Wichita.’”

But Tymony’s dream was not to become a firefighter in Wichita. He had his sights on becoming a firefighter in New York City.

“Those are real fighters out there. The big city, and a big department and a lot of culture. And a lot of training and tactics come from FDNY. They share and teach around the country,” he said. “This is the mecca of the fire service.”

More than a year before he entered the Wichita academy, Tymony had applied to the New York City Fire Department’s EMS academy – a common path to becoming a FDNY firefighter for those without military experience. The firefighter application is highly competitive, but if all went as planned, Tymony would have a better shot at taking the exam that could promote him to the rank of firefighter as an EMT.

He found out that his roster number had made it to the top of the list for the FDNY EMS academy just before the ride-along in Wichita, and the next day Tymony resigned from the Wichita academy, packed his car and, within days, moved halfway across the country to join what would become an historic FDNY EMS cohort, opening the possibility that in the future he would be able to follow the pathway to become a firefighter.

But after a year in on the front lines as an EMT in a city still battling the pandemic, Tymony, who turns 28 in April, now finds himself in a situation where he may not be able to take the exam at all. To become a firefighter in New York City, applicants without military experience must apply by their 29th birthday. At the moment, the application cycle is closed, which Tymony says may be because of the virus and budgetary pressures. He fears that it isn’t likely to open up in time for him to meet the age cutoff.

With no promotion exam on the horizon, he said he worries he risked it all for a dream that will be just out of reach.

“I worked my ass off to get out here,” he said. “Now I might not even make it because of this pandemic.”

He said he is not alone. Many firefighters prepare for years to be able serve with the FDNY, often serving as volunteers in small towns, or finding other ways to make their application more competitive. And now as the budget crisis became more and more critical, city workers on the front lines even faced potential layoffs in the summer. Those layoffs have since been avoided, but the fiscal outlook remains dire. Most city agencies, including the FDNY face cuts in 2021.

Representatives from City Hall and FDNY said that these cuts will not reduce FDNYs “operations or service levels,” and no hiring freezes are in effect for public safety agencies. But firefighter academy classes have been reduced due to the pandemic, and they continue to draw from a deep bench of applicants from the previous exam. More than 70,000 took the Open Competitive Exam when it was last offered in 2017 according to Department of Citywide Administrative Services records. Close to 1,500 took the EMT to Firefighter Promotion Exam, which Tymony hopes to take, when it was last offered in 2016.

The exams are normally offered every four to five years, according to the FDNY recruiting website. But there is no guarantee. And it is not clear  at this time what impact the virus will have on opening the next round of exams. As of mid-February, there are no indications of upcoming firefighter exams on the Department of Citywide Administrative Services or FDNY recruiting sites.

A representative from the FDNY said that there is currently no plan to waive or extend the age cutoff either. So the prospects for Tymony being able to take the promotional exam before he turns 29 seem even more distant.

Tymony has no regrets though.  He said he was torn when he finally received the call from the FDNY EMS academy. Wichita had always been one of his favorite fire departments. But it was tough to turn down the chance to one day serve on the FDNY.  So he signed up.

Of course, there was no way that Tymony could have foreseen what was ahead.  As he left Wichita, the coronavirus was still a distant threat. By mid-Spring, though, front line medical workers struggled to keep up with the growing case count. Tymony’s EMS academy class graduated early, and he was assigned to his first station in Brownsville.

“That was kind of a relief because we wouldn’t be getting yelled at and doing push-ups anymore,” he said. But he added that the fact that he would be going directly to the front lines of pandemic has been—and still is— frightening.

As the months drag on, Tymony still waits and hasn’t given up his dream. On his time off, he even volunteers with a fire department in Long Island to maintain his proficiency and to continue to follow his life’s calling.

“At the end of the day, I can’t be upset about what I’ve gotten to experience. Since I’ve been here, you know, it all hasn’t necessarily been good,” he said. “But it’s history that has been made. So, being able to be a part of that and help out, you know, it’s pretty cool.”