Local News

Raleigh Fire Chief Unveils Plan To Recruit More Minorities

Posted February 28, 2006

— Raleigh's new fire chief laid out a plan before the City Council's budget committee Tuesday that would increase the number of minorities on the city's firefighting force.

In the past, the Raleigh Fire Department has relied on word of mouth to recruit employees, but under Fire Chief John McGrath's plan, the fire department would target minorities with radio advertisements, open houses and fliers, and would remove internal obstacles, such as shortening the length of the application process.

"It used to be a two-day process, and that's tough for working-class people to take two days off from work," McGrath said. "So, we looked into the possibility of making it one day."

And now, applicants can fax or mail in their paperwork instead of delivering it by hand

McGrath said that he believes these simple steps would work to help the makeup of Raleigh's fire department be more reflective of the community it serves. Currently, only 12 percent of the department's firefighters are black, which doesn't mirror the black population of 30 percent.

"We really feel that if you just get the word out there that the Raleigh Fire Department is hiring, that the Raleigh Fire Department is looking to be part of the community, and looking to diversify, we can get the number of applicants of the targeted groups that we want," McGrath said.

McGrath said his plan not only includes the black community, but all people, including Hispanics and women.

"We're looking to target -- that we're inclusive to the entire community, and this is a good start," he said.

Grath gave a flier to budget committee members to serve as an example of what he would have distributed in minority communities to let people know the fire department is looking for qualified candidates.

It would advertise starting annual salaries of $29,000, and be distributed to such places as barbershops, beauty shops, churches and libraries, he said.

McGrath said he thinks the recruitment could be done in Raleigh with such a salary and that he is not planning to look outside the community until Raleigh residents have the opportunity to respond.

And if the plan doesn't work, McGrath said he would change it.

"It's not a cure-all, because it's something that's going to take some time to address," said Keith Sutton, with the Triangle Urban League. "We didn't end up in this situation overnight, so the change won't happen overnight."

Members of the Triangle Urban League, as well as Raleigh-Apex NAACP, and the Raleigh Wake Citizens Association, said in January that the city of Raleigh should do a better job with diversity and inclusion in the fire department and other ranks of city government.

They are pleased with the plan, but said they hope McGrath will look for more feedback from current black firefighters.

"I think there are concerns among them, of areas that can be improved," Sutton said.

Black leaders believe change can start now, especially with a new fire station being built in north Raleigh -- where 15 firefighters will be added to the city's firefighting force. Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said he hopes the next recruiting class can include 25-30 percent of minorities.

McGrath, who worked in Philadelphia for 30 years, stepped into his new role as fire chief in early February, when he admitted the department could do better to mirror the community, and welcomed any help.

"I'm committed to fairness and inclusiveness," he said when he took over. "The fire department is an arm of the government and the government is supposed to include everyone," McGrath said. "If they can help us become a better department and more inclusive department and fulfill our mission, I'm willing to listen."

The Raleigh City Council is expected to vote on the diversity recruiting plan next week.

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