Annapolis, Maryland Fire Chief Pledges To Make Racial Diversity Pressing Goal

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) -- Fire Chief Michael Patrick Lonergan has promised to make racial diversity and hiring practices his most pressing goal for the Annapolis Fire Department, which has been criticized for its lack of diversity.

``This will be a very inclusive department,'' Lonergan said.

He was confirmed by the Annapolis city council this week on a 6-3 vote that divided along racial lines.

Democratic Aldermen Cynthia Carter, George Kelley Sr. and Classie Gillis Hoyle, all of whom are black, voted against the confirmation.

``We have to make and take every opportunity to diversify the department,'' Lonergan said. ``We need to reach out and recruit minorities more actively.''

The department has been criticized over minority hiring for nearly two decades, since a 1985 class action lawsuit by the Black Firefighters Association led to a consent degree under which the city agreed to increase minority hiring.

But some black officials and firefighters have criticized the county's compliance with that agreement and voiced concern about what they described as a racist climate in the department.

A task force formed by Mayor Ellen O. Moyer said in June that the department failed to show a ``meaningful commitment'' to minorities during the past two decades. Carter said she and the others who voted against Lonergan's confirmation did so to register disapproval of the department's demographics.

``That consent decree has never been complied with, with so few African-American firefighters,'' she said. ``The vote was a statement of displeasure that they have not put a minority into a management position.''

Lonergan, an Eastport native and resident, succeeds former Chief Edward P. Sherlock Jr. He has been acting chief since June 1.

He started his firefighting career 28 years ago with the Annapolis department, rising through the ranks from city fireboat company officer to battalion chief before his appointment to the post by the mayor.

``I prefer to hire from within if possible, and he has great respect in the community,'' Moyer said.

The new chief said that city aldermen who criticize the Fire Department as a white male domain have a point.

Of the department's, 98 uniformed employees, there are eight black male firefighters and only a few women, he said.

But greater integration of the department is a personal mandate, he said.

Lonergan said the department will seek to recruit applicants from Prince George's and Montgomery counties.