Fire bureau chief: Diversity still a work in progress

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LONELY AT THE TOP—Pittsburgh Bureau of Fire Chief Darryll E. Jones  consults with Master Firefighter Lisa Epps, the bureau’s only African-American female officer. (Photo by J.L. Martello.)

 

In 2002, the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau boasted 950 firefighters, 62 or 6.5 percent of whom were Black. At the time, only two of the bureau’s 100 officers were Black. By 2006, after massive downsizing that saw six fire stations closed and staff cut by more than 300, the bureau’s 56 African-Americans accounted for 8.9 percent of the personnel, seven of them officers.

So where do things stand today, under the Bureau’s first Black chief, and the city’s Diversity365 initiatives?

“It’s not much better than it was before,” said Chief Darryll E. Jones. “One of my goals was to increase diversity—it still is. When a public organization doesn’t appear to reflect the community, people get skeptical, and that doesn’t help.”

According to reports supplied by the city’s Department of Personnel and Civil Service Commission, the bureau currently has 620 employees. Of those, 51 are Black—one of them female. Of the remaining eight minorities, four are Hispanic, three are Asian and one is Native American. The bureau’s other seven females are White. That means the remaining 554, or 89 percent, are White males.

Diversity among the bureau’s officer corps is, not surprisingly, even worse. Of the bureau’s 193 officers, seven are African-American males; there is one Hispanic male; and one Asian male. So 182, or 94 percent, of the bureau’s officers are White males. The bureau boasts two female officers.

Jones said despite his efforts and those of Assistant Director and EEO Officer Tamiko Stanley to increase Black and minority recruitment, the bureau either isn’t getting applicants, or retaining qualified candidates.

“Tamiko has really been working hard at this,” said Jones. “They had a trailer at movie theaters for recruiting.  I’ve gone with her to community centers and churches, job fairs. But we’re competing with the police too. “

Jones said one issue hampering efforts to hire more African-Americans involves the way positions have to be filled. The bureau advertises for candidates, tests them, then puts the top names on a list, where they remain for three years.

The bureau can only hire from that list. And when they have to compile a new list three years later, all the names are thrown out. Anyone still interested must go through the process again.  Jones said a lot of candidates will not or cannot wait three years, and take jobs elsewhere or in other fields.

“We didn’t hire anyone from the last list,” said Jones.

The current list, posted in August 2012, has a total of 435 qualified candidates, 51 are listed as minorities, eight as women. Two recruiting classes drawn from that list includes 28 names each, four of them minorities, none of them women. Unlike previous times, this list is set to expire in 18 months

“The stale list definitely had an impact,” said Stanley. “But we are currently planning to partner with various organizations to assist in our diversity efforts including current conversations with the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters to further enhance outreach and increase recruitment.  

She said her department and the Pittsburgh Firefighters Union Local 1 are having discussions with the Pittsburgh Public Schools Board of Education to explore ideas and programming to support the planned efforts for increased youth engagement.

“We need diversity at the top of the list,” she said. “We need our candidates at the top.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpitts­burghcourier.com.)  

 

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