NEW YORK -- A former Marine who was awarded the Medal of Honor bowed out of his quest Tuesday to join the New York City Fire Department after a federal judge denied his request to extend the application deadline for all aspiring firefighters – not just him.
The judge had been willing to grant a 24-hour application extension for Sgt. Dakota Meyer, who saved the lives of 36 people during an ambush in Afghanistan two years ago. Meyer missed the FDNY's application deadline because he was busy with official Medal of Honor commitments and ceremonies, said Keith Sullivan, his attorney.
But when the city offered to reopen the application process to the public, Brooklyn Judge Nicholas Garaufis refused, saying a brief extension would create a risk of "adverse impact" on minority groups who are under-represented in the ranks of the FDNY. Instead, the judge agreed to grant Meyer a one-day exception because he is "one exceptional individual."
That didn't seem fair to Meyer, who charged five times in a Humvee into heavy gunfire in the darkness of an Afghanistan valley to rescue comrades under attack from Taliban insurgents.
"Dakota refuses to compromise his values," Sullivan said Tuesday. "He said he would like to thank the city of New York and the people who have shown him so much support, but he couldn't in good conscience take a one-person exception. He will apply for the exam when it's given again in four years."
The judge said the city's offer to advertise the extension on multiple city websites would not be enough to reach black and Hispanic communities. The decision came amid nearly two years of heightened scrutiny of the FDNY's hiring practices in federal court.
Garaufis, who has presided over the proceedings, ruled last year that the city's firefighter entrance exam discriminated against minorities. He has closely monitored the FDNY in recent months as it reforms hiring practices by ramping up minority outreach efforts.
The recruitment application period, which began July 15, was slated to end Sept. 15 but was extended through Sept. 19, FDNY spokesman Frank Dwyer said.
In an emailed statement, the city's law department said it would respect the judge's decision. Dwyer said Meyer is exactly the sort of person the FDNY would love to recruit.
"He is the best America has to offer," Dwyer said. "He's shown bravery, he's shown selflessness. And he's willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done."
Meyer, who was later promoted to sergeant and is now out of the Marines, is the third living recipient and the first Marine to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Sullivan blamed the city for not offering to bolster its minority outreach efforts during the proposed 24-hour window. He sent a letter on Tuesday to the city's law department asking them to go back to the judge with a strategy for minority-based marketing during that one-day period.
"If Sgt. Meyer took the path of least resistance – as I feel the city is doing in this instance – 36 soldiers would be dead," Sullivan said.
The city did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday on any further action in connection with the dispute.
As for Meyer, he is currently on the West coast for more Medal of Honor ceremonies, Sullivan said. In light of the judge's decision, he hasn't decided what he'll do next.
"He served in Afghanistan with other Marines who are FDNY firefighters, and his grandfather is a firefighter," Sullivan said. "So he figured he would pursue that line of work. And what better place to do it – after everything he's gone through – but New York City?"