Local News

Latest Raleigh Fire Recruits Reflect More Diverse Department

Posted August 15, 2006 6:48 a.m. EDT

— Raleigh's new fire chief is dousing concerns about the makeup of the force with a new recruiting class that has a much more diverse combination of races and genders.

When Chief John McGrath took over the ranks in February, leaders in the black community had said the department's makeup was unacceptable. At the time, only 12 percent of firefighters were black, although blacks make up 30 percent of Raleigh's population.

In response, McGrath implemented a diversity recruitment plan. In a class of 30 new recruits, 40 percent are black males, and 10 percent are female.

"I think it's a good start for the fire department to prove that (it) is inclusive to everybody it serves, but I certainly don't think it's the end of anything," said McGrath.

The new class will raise the number of black men on the force to 14 percent. The department was not successful in recruiting any black women.

The new recruits have already passed background checks, written exams and physical agility tests. The next step is a six-month training academy that begins in September.

"The department didn't get in this situation overnight, and it won't change overnight," said Keith Sutton with the Triangle Urban League, one of the three black organizations who had criticized the lack of diversity in the department.

Still, critics do believe things are moving in the right direction.

"As long as we keep it up, and I have no reason to believe they will not, I think we'll see the numbers increase each year," said Sutton.

Tony Edmundson, the president of the United Professional Firefighters of Raleigh, said Tuesday that anything is an improvement over what the force was like before. He also said McGrath is taking a much more realistic approach than past leadership.