North Carolina Fire Chief Addresses Racial Concerns

The city's new fire chief answered questions about racial diversity and division in the department before finishing his first day on the job Wednesday.

Chief John McGrath took command of the Raleigh Fire Department just weeks after Assistant Chief Larry Stanford, a 25-year veteran of the department, complained to city officials that he felt his race was the reason he was passed over for the top job.

City officials have denied race was a factor in the hiring of McGrath, who has worked in Philadelphia Fire Department for the last 32 years, following a national search.

A Raleigh fire captain recently blasted Stanford for publicizing his concerns, saying it has damaged the morale among firefighters and opened wounds in the department and city.

But McGrath said he welcomes tough questions and challenges from his management team.

"Firefighters are open, forthright people, and they speak their mind. I appreciate that and like that about them -- I'm the same way myself. But when the bell rings, they're professional, they do theyre jobs. They're there to protect the public, and they're there to protect each other," McGrath said. "I don't think theres any wound that can't be handled with open, forthright discussion."

Civil rights groups have asked that the city take steps to boost minority recruitment in the fire department, and city officials have said increasing the 11 percent minority representation on the force is a priority.

McGrath said he finds the limited minority hiring "troubling," and he plans to expand recruitment efforts.

"I want to make sure the fire department is doing the right thing and offers that opportunity to everyone who aspires to work with us," he said.

Stanford attended McGrath's press conference but declined to speak with NBC-17.

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