Baltimore Fire Dept. Abandons Hiring Procedures

BALTIMORE --

The Baltimore City Fire Department has abandoned hiring procedures established in 2004 that were designed to make the department more diverse, the WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team has discovered.

The fire academy's May class of graduates is motivated, dedicated and determined, but there's little diversity, WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter David Collins said. Nearly all of the 45 cadets are white men except for five African-Americans and three women. Of another class of 45 cadets that started instruction Wednesday, 29 are Caucasian, 12 are African-American and all of them are men.

Baltimore City Fire Chief James Clack admitted there's plenty of room for improvement.

"Is it as diverse as I'd like? No -- both from the standpoint of minorities and women," said Clack, who was appointed chief in 2008.

In a city where African-Americans make up 63.2 percent of the population, the 11 News I-Team could find little evidence that the department is actively seeking minority candidates.

A city representative told the I-Team that the Fire Department's last recruitment efforts took place more than two years ago when officials visited 20 places, including schools, churches and community events. The 11 News I-Team attempted to contact representatives at all 20 locations, but half had no recollection or documentation to support the Fire Department's claim.

"I'm very upset if that's actually true that people weren't actually at these events because I know that the department paid overtime to people to staff these booths," Clack said.

Later, in an e-mail, a department representative indicated that the Fire Department did indeed staff recruiting events but "it appears that the record-keeping for the past recruitment efforts have not been managed as they should have and what was provided to WBAL doesn't reflect the actual efforts."

BCFD Confronted Diversity Issues In Past

The Fire Department has come under fire for diversity issues before. In 2004, after hiring an all-white class, the administration developed a recruitment strategy developed by a coordinated effort between City Hall, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Urban League and The Vulcan Blazers, a firefighters union.

In 2007, 29-year-old cadet Rachael Wilson died during a training exercise. Investigations found numerous safety violations in that drill that put cadets at risk, and there were questions about physical ability. Wilson had twice failed agility tests.

Clack said Wilson was part of a more diverse group of cadets -- a result of the change in recruitment strategy after the all-white class in 2004.

"I think the Rachael Wilson incident woke us up," Clack said. "There were some accommodations made to make sure the classes were diverse after that event and that led us to a tragedy where physical endurance, physical strength was secondary or even third place behind other considerations."

Since then, the Fire Department created a new physical requirement that cadets pass the Candidate Physical Agility Test in order to get into the Fire Academy.

Henry Burris, president of the Vulcan Blazers, argued that CPAT is just another way to weed out minorities and women.

"I think there is evidence of institutional racism in the Baltimore City Fire Department," Burris said.

The Fire Department responded to that claim, saying, "We have a positive relationship with the Vulcan Blazers. In fact, we meet on a monthly basis to discuss concerns and other matters on edifying and building a strong workforce and environment."

Burris said he believes minorities are sometimes unfairly required to take additional medical tests after passing the CPAT. He said one candidate had to take a test for sleep apnea. While another "passed the CPAT and he was told he had to take a stress test."

Burris also contended that test questions are geared toward candidates who already have experience, favoring volunteer firefighters from the counties. Clack said the Fire Department has plenty of minorities on its waiting list.

"One of our biggest problems is not getting people on the eligible list, it's getting people to continue on the process," Clack said.

Clack explained that the wait to be called can be months, saying people lose interest and it gets more difficult to contact them.

Burris said he doesn't think the city's trying hard enough.

"Chief Clack, in the year 2008, gave me a list of 40 individuals (who) apparently (were) on a list of a test, and he said those 40 individuals could not be contacted. I had no problem (reaching them)," Burris said.

Burris said he tried reaching the first seven people on the list and reached them all.

Clack said he also blames city budget woes for the passive recruiting effort, saying there's no sense in pursuing cadets if you can't hire them any time soon.

Perhaps coincidentally, the Fire Department started developing a new recruitment strategy since the 11 News I-Team started asking questions, Collins said. A committee of 34 people -- including firefighters, paramedics and civilians -- will brainstorm ideas and audit results.

"What we want to do is be continuous, go all the way into the elementary schools, the middle schools, the high schools, and put the thought of being a firefighter or paramedic in their minds at an early age so they look at it as a career choice," Baltimore City Deputy Fire Chief Lloyd Carter said.

When asked why such an effort couldn't have been done earlier, Clack said, "It could have been. It could have been I done earlier. It just wasn't. I don't know why."

The Fire Department has yet to establish a recruitment strategy, but Fire Department officials described their efforts as a work in progress.

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