Last month, a house caught fire across the street from the Braddock Hills Volunteer Fire Department. When the short-staffed department failed to respond, it was left up to firefighters from surrounding areas to put out the blaze.
Since then, members of the Braddock Hills community have come forward with an answer on why the fire department is short staffed. They say, the department refuses to let African-Americans join.
“Right now they’re short of firemen and the problem I have is they prohibit African-Americans from becoming firemen,” said Braddock Hills Councilman Tom Evans in an interview with the New Pittsburgh Courier. “I think it is wrong that if you’re an African-American and you want to be a firefighter you should be prohibited.”
The issue was brought to the attention of the Braddock Hills Council at a recent meeting, but the council has no control over hiring at the fire department. They also have no power to change policies at the Braddock Hills Welfare and Fire Association, a club for the volunteer firefighters that some claim is responsible for prohibiting African-Americans.
“It’s a volunteer fire department and the borough doesn’t run them, but I had to speak up when I heard about it,” Evans said. “I don’t say everyone who goes into the club is a bigot. I say the policy needs to be changed. There are a lot of the firefighters now who don’t like that rule.”
Evans said he has been told there is a clause in the club’s charter prohibiting African-Americans from joining. A request for comment to the volunteer fire department was not returned.
“The Mayor and Council for the Borough of Braddock Hills believe that if these reports are accurate, that such discriminatory practices are offensive, disgusting and repulsive and are not acceptable,“ said a statement provided by Evans. “If these discriminatory practices exist, they must cease and any person, regardless of race, creed, religion, sex or national origin should be welcomed into these organizations.”
While the Braddock Hills Council cannot change the department’s policy, they are considering fire protection alternatives. A call for proposals went out in February to the fire departments in Swissvale and Forest Hills, who have already been responding to fires in Braddock Hills.
Forest Hills has not yet responded to the request, but Forest Hills submitted a proposal to provide Braddock Hills with fire protection services for an annual fee. If their request is not accepted, Swissvale will begin charging Braddock Hills for their services individually on June 1.
Braddock Hills pays their volunteer fire department approximately $30,000 annually. The council plans to hold a hearing to allow the public to provide input on the borough’s fire protection issues.