On the ground: Watching and waiting at Ricci’s firehouse

For years, New Haven’s firefighters waited.

Not a single firefighter has been promoted to captain or lieutenant since the city threw out the results of its now-infamous 2003 promotion exam, on which no black firefighters did well enough to be considered for a promotion. The city’s action drew a lawsuit from Frank Ricci and 19 other firefighters, who saw their chance at moving up in the ranks vanish overnight.

Needless to say, it was an unusual morning at the city’s fire stations on June 29 as the U.S. Supreme Court prepared to release its ruling in Ricci v. DeStefano.

Ricci had taken the day off, according to firefighters at the Dixwell station on Goffe Street, where he is regularly stationed. One of them, Lt. Luke Rivera, expressed relief at the time — the ruling was finally imminent.

“People are waiting to move on,” he said, eyeing a television turned to Fox News as he awaited the decision. “The city will hopefully put together a promotional exam quickly. … We need leadership in the department right now.”

At about 10:10 a.m., one firefighter waited expectantly in front of the television in the fire station’s kitchen.

“Hey, fellas,” he yelled to three other firefighters nearby, beckoning them over to the screen. The four watched as the 5–4 decision in favor of Ricci and 19 other firefighters was announced.

The room was mostly silent, and the tone was relaxed. The firefighters were at first unsure how to take the news: “So what’d they agree with?” asked a white firefighter sitting close to the television. The men expressed satisfaction at the court’s decision, though none overtly celebrated.

When the channel cut back to a story on the sentencing of the disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, some of the men shuffled back to the lobby of the station. “That’s all?” one firefighter asked.

Members of the group stood in the lobby of the building, taking note of a woman outside with a video camera and chatting before they returned to their regular duties. One firefighter announced he was going to Shaw’s.

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