Promotions include 4 women, 3 minorities More applicants needed, says fire administrator

December 03, 1997|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

County Fire Administrator Steven Halford boasted of his record of moving women and minorities into management positions when he promoted 35 firefighters yesterday.

But a look into the number of minorities and women in the county EMS/Fire/Rescue shows that the department still has a way to go.

Yesterday's promotion ceremony raised one woman to the rank of captain -- the fourth in department history -- and one African-American and one woman to the rank of lieutenant. Two other women and two minorities were promoted within the firefighting ranks.

The numbers are small, seven of the 35, but fire department statistics show there aren't many minorities and women to choose from on the force.

Out of 600 firefighters on the force, only 26 are black, six are Latino and four are of other ethnic origins. Women fare better: There are 40 of them -- more than the number of minorities combined.

Halford said yesterday that the small number of minorities and women on the force makes it difficult to get those candidates into management positions, but many who have taken promotional tests have scored high.

"The problem is not that the applicants don't do well, the problem is we've got to get more minority applicants," he said. "We just don't have enough minorities. If we had an equal number of minority cultures, you would see more minority promotions."

He added that in order to increase competition and to give more minorities and women an opportunity to compete for management jobs, he held up the promotional testing -- usually given every two years. The one-year delay allowed another firefighting class, which would not have been eligible because its members had not been on the force long enough, a chance to compete.

Debbie Schueler, a six-year veteran made eligible by the delay, scored above more than 100 candidates and was promoted to lieutenant yesterday.

"It's a big deal because of the small number of [minority] applicants we're talking about," Halford said. "Every minority promotion becomes a role model. Sometimes it's intimidating not to see your culture or your race in management positions."

Lt. Purnell Oden agrees. An African-American veteran with 13 years, Oden waited three years for a lieutenant's position.

"I think the department has promoted the people who are in the position to be promoted," Oden said.

"I think they have all the opportunity to be [promoted] if they wanted to. I imagine in the future there would be more coming soon. I guess they'll figure if that knucklehead can do it, so can I," Oden said.

In the meantime, Halford said, all of the promotions, including those of minorities, are very important to the department.

"To me it's a very big deal," he said. "I'm glad the majority applicants can see the diversity in the management ranks."

Pub Date: 12/03/97

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