Sept. 17--The Anne Arundel County Fire Department has seen significant drops in both minority and female recruits in recent years.
The department has seen a large drop in African-American recruits -- from 21.4 percent of the Fire Academy's 2007 class to 1.3 percent of the class that began Aug. 1, according to data obtained from the county's Office of Personnel by The Capital through a Public Information Act request.
The news comes after the International Association of Professional Black Fire Fighters announced it would ask the Department of Justice to cut the department's federal funding citing an all-male, all-white academy class that began last month. The association's president, James Hill, said Monday a formal request hasn't been made.
The Anne Arundel County chapter of the NAACP has asked the Justice Department to investigate the county's hiring procedures.
Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the Anne Arundel NAACP, sent a letter to U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., in March, asking him to start an investigation. Allsup said last week that she and the NAACP have contacted Cardin's office and said the congressman was "following up on our concerns."
"There's no magic number, just equal opportunity for all individuals and that the people that protect our county and fight for our county -- look like our county," Allsup said.
The IABFF's contention that the class was all white was incorrect, but almost on target. Of the 72 recruits in the Fire Academy, one was black and two others were listed as "unspecified," according to the information provided by the personnel office.
The class, however, is exclusively male -- a sharp contrast from the academy's 2008 class in which 10.7 percent of the class' 121 recruits were women. There have been no academy classed in between 2008 and the present.
Fire Chief Michael Cox said the county is committed to reversing the trend. The department has assembled a team of around a dozen people, spanning ethnic backgrounds, to focus on recruitment, he said.
The department has also drafted a diversity recruitment plan, Cox said. "We can't single out one group, but we have to be inclusive of all groups."
The recruits were hired before Cox was named acting fire chief in the spring. Cox was subsequently tapped for the job in July.
Keith Whalen, the president of the union which represents the bulk of the county's firefighters, is part of the team tasked with retooling the department's recruitment efforts.
The department has already begun efforts to try and recruit from colleges as well as volunteer departments in neighboring jurisdictions, he said.
"When you're out there and you want to get a class you have to cast a wide net," Whalen said. "I think we were out there with a fishing rod."
Of the department's 814 total employees, 5.6 percent are African Americans and 12.5 percent are women. Asians, Hispanics, Native Americans or Alaskan Natives and those that haven't specified their ethnicity each make up less than 1 percent of the department.
Gregory Lawrence, the IAPBFF's state representative, was concerned about the decreases.
"I'd like (the department) to reflect the way the county looks," Lawrence said.
Both the IAPBFF and the NAACP have criticized the department for advertising the recruit positions for only five days last fall. They've also criticized the department for advertising the entry-level positions as "firefighter II" -- arguing that the title is misleading.
Cox said the department is not opposed to changing the title as long as it gets approval from the county's office of personnel.
The fire chief could not say why the positions had been advertised for a only a few days, saying that the decision came from the office of personnel.
Hill, the IAPBFF's president, said the over the past decade and a half, the association has seen a decrease in African Americans and women in the fire service nationwide.
"In 1998, African Americans made up some ... 18 to 20 percent of fire services, Hill said. "According to records today, we're approaching 8 to 9 percent."