City fire chief seeks total control over department recruiting, hiring

Agency now splits process with human resources

April 22, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. wants his agency to have total control over future recruitment and hiring and stop splitting the duties with the city's human resources department.

"We want to do more testing more frequently and have total control over the recruiting process as opposed to sharing it," said Kevin Cartwright, a Fire Department spokesman.

The chief was under orders from Mayor Martin O'Malley to revamp hiring procedures after an article in The Sun on Tuesday reported problems with the department's recruiting efforts that led to the first all-white recruiting class since the agency integrated in 1953.

The Department of Human Resources now administers the test and keeps the results until the Fire Department requests the list of candidates who passed so that they can be interviewed for a job.

Some fire officials blamed the recruiting problems on the entrance examination, which they said is too technical for people not previously familiar with fire training. Human Resources Executive Director Elliott Wheelan has defended the test.

O'Malley sharply criticized Goodwin and Wheelan on Tuesday for not doing enough to prevent the racially exclusive hiring class. Wheelan also provided the mayor with a corrective plan yesterday.

O'Malley is reviewing both plans and could release new Fire Department recruiting and hiring procedures today.

Goodwin also proposed copying the city Police Department's procedure of frequently offering applicants an entrance test.

"Our desire is that there will be no correlation between what we would like to see and what is in place right now," Cartwright said.

More frequent testing is expected to net a larger pool of candidates and shorten the Fire Department's hiring process from two years, or longer, to weeks. The department test is offered in intervals of 18 months, or longer. While the city is 65 percent black, only 25 percent of its 1,700 firefighters and paramedics are a racial minority.

The current academy class has 30 men and women. Five are city residents, 16 are from surrounding counties, and nine are from Pennsylvania.

An attorney who successfully sued the city three decades ago on behalf of four black firefighters alleging discrimination in the department said the class was illegally drawn.

"How can they hire a guy from Pennsylvania when they didn't even advertise these city jobs in Baltimore?" said George L. Russell Jr., a former city solicitor and Circuit Court judge.

The 1971 decision stated: "Applicants for employment who are city residents shall be given preference in hiring over non-city residents as long as there exists a sufficient number of qualified city residents."

While the Fire Department has said the last test results did not net a large pool of qualified city or minority candidates, Russell said the number of possible qualified city residents was unknown because it wasn't known that the agency was hiring.

O'Malley said on Tuesday that he thought the class could survive a legal challenge but acknowledged that a concerted effort to notify city residents of firefighter jobs must be made.

The department's next challenge is bringing candidates to the test.

The department, noting a limited financial budget, said it has no plans to increase advertising to city residents beyond distributing fliers at community events, replying to department Web site inquiries and going door to door with literature.

The department hopes to improve a fire training program at Walbrook Uniformed Services Academy, a West Baltimore high school, and start similar programs at other schools.

A person must be at least age 18 with a high school diploma, or the equivalent, to be hired by the department. Starting pay is $27,823.

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