“The fire service is a noble calling. There is no other municipal agency that can compare to the service we provide,” said New Haven (CT) Lieutenant Frank Ricci in the opening statement of his emotional and hearfelt keynote speech at Thursday morning’s opening ceremony at FDIC 2010.
In early 2009, Ricci garnered national attention as the lead plaintiff of the “New Haven 20,” a group of firefighters that successfully sued the state of Connecticut for racial discrimination after being denied certain rank promotions despite proving their top-flight qualifications. The case eventually found Ricci testifying to the Supreme Court.
Ricci passionately addressed several political-, professional-, and individual-level roadblocks that he feels are currently hindering the fire service—what he described as “the four horsemen”—which he lists as Lack of Accountability, Indifference, Loss of Faith, and Politics Over Merit. He spoke at length to each point, saying the following:
- On Accountability, Ricci asked of chief officers: “Show your face; stop by and visit your troops. Let them know that your focus is on what is best for them and the community.”
- On Indifference and Loss of Faith: “Once you open the door, they strike fast at the very spirit of who we are, leavening a lasting impression.”
- On Politics Over Merit, Ricci, having recent first-hand experience on the subject, explained, “Unfortunately, we cannot leave this process [civil service and merit-based testing] unattended. We need to stay engaged and demand transparency and guarantee that the rules are applied equally. If politics, nepotism, cronyism, or discrimination sneak in, then we owe it to each other to root it out.”
Ricci was especially passionate against the latter predicament, citing the very first civil service laws that originated in China over 2,000 years ago and the beliefs of George Washington, who promoted merit over political will in his first term in office. But Ricci also warned against overreaction, stating that, “We must be careful not to demonize those who disagree with us. We should only debate the issues.”
Ricci concluded by quoting Edward R. Murrow, who cautioned, “A nation of sheep will beget a nation of wolves.” With this statement, Ricci believes that each and every firefighter, from the very bottom to the very top, has the power to effect the changes in the fire service’s social system needed to avoid losing its independence.