Few Women, Minorities In Peoria Fire Department

Wanted: Physically fit women with incredible upper body strength and stamina to put out fires in extreme conditions. Those job requirements don't seem too tough to make it on Peoria's Fire Department, but try telling that to the two women who didn't pass the physical agility test.

"Most ladies don't have upper body strength that firefighters need to have," said Kent Tomblin, assistant Peoria fire chief. "Male firefighters need to be in good shape, female firefighters need to be especially in good shape."

Twenty-two females, minority and white, picked up application packets to become a Peoria firefighter when the department started seeking applicants in 2003. When it was time to take the written examination, only three showed up. They all passed.

In the next round of testing, the physical agility test, two showed up. They failed.

No female firefighters made it into the job pool during the department's last testing period, a common scenario that fire officials encounter every two years at recruitment. v This year, as the fire department looks to fill four current positions and possibly another two or three spots later on, firefighters have changed their recruiting approach.

They've reached out to females who participate in college sports and attended job fairs in search of minority men in hopes of cracking the long-standing challenge of making the fire department more diverse.

Of the department's 188 firefighters, only 18 percent are minorities, a group that represents white women, African-American men and women, Hispanic men and Asian men.

There are only three women, two white and one African-American, who also holds the title of captain, on the department. There are 27 African-American male firefighters, two Asian firemen and one Hispanic fireman.

White men, who make up 82 percent of the force, oftentimes also dominate the eligibility pool during testing periods because more of them apply for the job.

"It's very important to have diversity," Tomblin said. "We try very hard to get a diverse group but the majority are young white males, then young black males and then females."

The deadline to send in applications to qualify for this year's eligibility pool is March 28. Applications can be picked up at the Human Resources Department, 419 Fulton St.

The staring salary for a Peoria firefighter in 2004 was $38,228. The current starting salary was not available because the fire department and the city are in negotiations.