‘Priority Hire’ FDNY Firefighter Allegedly Evading Fires

A Baltimore firefighter pulls a hose through crowds of protestors, who later cut the hose, in front of a burning building during clashes in Baltimore

A black firefighter in the New York Fire Department who was hired as a “priority hire” has allegedly been evading fires while his Engine Co. 257 coworkers risk their lives in the blazes, according to the New York Post.

Michael D. Johnson, 41, formerly worked as a city EMT and was later hired from among the applicants whom a judge ruled were passed over in 1999 or 2000 because of discrimination. A total of 282 people were hired for that reason. Johnson needed three attempts to pass the Fire Academy and has been returned for retraining twice.

Sources told the New York Post that Johnson, nicknamed “Tragic Johnson” by coworkers, has eschewed fighting fires various times since he became a member of the Canarsie, Brooklyn, firehouse. The latest incident occurred on Aril 2, when Johnson’s captain, discovering that Johnson was missing from the three-man team that was supposed to haul the firehose into a three-alarm blaze on East 78th Street, radioed a “mayday.” Johnson was supposed to have been the man behind the firefighter carrying the nozzle of the firehose; his absence meant only two men were there to carry the heavy hose into the building and up the stairs. A source told the Post that the fire boss who radioed the “mayday” was aware that Johnson had stayed outside, rather than having been hurt or in distress, but he wanted to make sure his absence was on the recorded transmissions.

The Post acquired a photo showing Johnson at a curb adjacent to a FDNY vehicle while other firemen entered the burning house. Johnson later said that he went back to the firetruck because his air tank was low, but sources told the paper that Johnson never entered the house at all, and there was no reason his tank should have been low.

One source within the fire department told the Post, “It can’t be ignored. … If they ignore it, some civilian will end up injured or killed, or a fireman will be injured or killed.”

But Johnson has escaped public criticism from his colleagues because he was hired as a result of discrimination. Yet his 2014 graduating class, which included 286 probationary firefighters, was considered the most diverse in FDNY history, with a population that was 24% Latino, 17% black, and included four women.

After Johnson returned from his retraining, a source asserted, he said he did not want to return to the Canarsie firehouse, but department officials told him to return. The source added, “The department seems to not want to give a f–k about any of this because they want to fill their quota.”

Johnson would only say of the mayday, “The captain never said anything to me. I have to go to my station and ask them what they’re talking about. So many things could be said and not be true.”

SeeThroughNewYork reported Johnson’s salary skyrocketed from $44,520 as an EMT in 2008 to $76,488 last year after he joined the fire department. There were reports that Johnson was absent from work for days after April 2, claiming he was stressed, and took months of medical leave last year after a July 4 weekend fire.

Firefighters in their first year with the FDNY have probationary status, and the department can fire them at the end of the first year; in two weeks, Johnson’s employment with the FDNY will reach a full year.


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