World / Reporter's Journal

Phoenix Society adds Asian voice to Fire Department of New York

By William Hennelly (China Daily USA) Updated: 2015-04-30 06:56

Phoenix Society adds Asian voice to Fire Department of New York

Members of the Phoenix Society of the Fire Department of New York carry their banner during the 2015 Lunar New Year Parade in Chinatown. [Photo by RICK WOEHRLE / FDNY]

David Lin, a training coordinator for the grueling physical test required of Fire Department of New York prospects, said Asian candidates would often ask him if there was an FDNY society that represented their heritage.

Irish-American firefighters have the Emerald Society. The Columbia Association represents Italian-American firefighters. African-American firefighters have the Vulcan Society. The FDNY has a Hispanic Society; the Steuben Society represents those of German descent, and firefighters from Scandinavian countries can join the FDNY Viking Association.

Phoenix Society adds Asian voice to Fire Department of New York

All of those groups were formed decades ago, reflective of the city's historical demographics. Asian-Americans have been in New York for a long time, but traditionally have not sought jobs on the FDNY.

"Every ethnicity has their own society," Lin told China Daily. In 2012, he, Steven Lee and two other FDNY members decided to form the Phoenix Society. Lee is the president, and Lin is the vice-president.

The Phoenix Society serves as a badge of pride for New York's Bravest of Asian descent. The group describes itself as a "cultural bridge between the FDNY, its employees and the Asian communities of New York City". It also counts EMS workers among its 80 members.

Asians are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the US, according to the 2010 US Census. In New York City, 27.5 percent of the foreign-born population was from Asia, and one in eight New Yorkers was Asian American.

Phoenix Society also plans to start an East Asian language program, with Mandarin to be the first language offered.

"What better way to serve the community than to speak the language itself?" said Lin, a native New Yorker whose parents came to the US from Guangdong province. Lin speaks Cantonese, another language Phoenix plans to offer, and eventually Japanese.

Many of the recent Chinese immigrants to New York are from the Chinese mainland, so Mandarin is a "tangible skill they can use at work," Lee said in a February interview on

Lin, who works in the FDNY Office of Recruitment and Diversity, coordinates the strenuous Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT). The CPAT is a sequence of eight events that requires the candidate to move along a predetermined path in a continuous manner, according to It is a pass/fail test based on a maximum time of 10 minutes, 20 seconds. If time elapses prior to the completion of the test, the candidate fails. The CPAT events are: stair climb, hose drag, equipment carry, ladder raise and extension, forcible entry, search, rescue, ceiling breach and pull.

Not as many Asian Americans take that test though, because "more Asians opt into civilian careers in the FDNY," Lee told "Some become EMTs and paramedics. But the least amount are firefighters. It's just the perception of career choices.

"A lot of Asians that immigrated to America didn't see civil service opportunities as a primary career choice," Lee told "They would prefer their children to go into a more lucrative field. I don't think that's true in this day and age."

As of the biennial 2013 NYC Government Workforce Profile Report, the FDNY had 110 firefighters of Asian descent. The FDNY has a workforce overall of more than 15,000 — 2 percent Asian American, the report said.

"We are seeing more Asian Americans joining the ranks of firefighters and EMS as well," Lin said. "It is inevitable, since the Asian community is the fastest-growing population in NYC."

Lee also said that the Phoenix Society was considering a course that promotes the health benefits of Asian cooking. "The kitchen table is the heart and soul of the firehouse," he said.

Irish-American firefighters in New York have long marched with pride in the 254-year-old St. Patrick's Day Parade, and Phoenix Society members the past two years have strode with their banner in the Lunar New Year parade — "one of our staple events", Lin said.

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