Arundel seeks minority firefighters

Community leaders asked to assist in recruitment

May 07, 2004|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel officials want the county Fire Department to avoid joining the list of area fire companies embarrassed by a lack of minority hiring, so they're reaching out to community leaders in search of new recruitment strategies.

At a meeting last evening in Millersville, department officials discussed recruitment with representatives from the NAACP and Latino and Korean community groups. They implored members of those groups to spread the word that the department wants as many minority applicants as possible.

"This is important because we have such a brief window of time to cast as wide a net as possible," said Frances B. Phillips, the county's acting fire chief.

County Executive Janet S. Owens recently announced plans to add 66 positions to the Fire Department. Phillips and civil rights leaders say now is the perfect time to hire more minorities.

"I see this as a really big opportunity that we need to take advantage of," said Carl O. Snowden, an aide to Owens and longtime civil rights activist in the county. "It goes without saying that the numbers could stand to be vastly improved."

The county population is about 14 percent black; the Fire Department is about 4 percent black. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other community groups have criticized the disparity for two decades.

Beyond hiring more black firefighters, the department could use Spanish speakers to deal with a growing Latino community around Annapolis and Korean speakers to deal with a growing Korean population around Glen Burnie, said Keith Wright, president of the county's fire union. "We've traditionally been a white, male department, and we need to move away from that," Wright said.

Phillips said the department does not have a specific goal for the number of minorities to hire, but added: "We have to do better than we're doing."

The lack of diversity in fire departments has emerged recently as an issue in the Baltimore metropolitan area, with the Baltimore City and Annapolis departments facing charges of imbalanced hiring.

Last month, The Sun reported that this year's class of recruits at the Baltimore City Fire Department would be all-white for the first time since 1953. The city population is almost two-thirds black.

In Annapolis, the department is 9 percent black while the population is about one-third black. That disparity has persisted for years despite city leaders' promise to a federal judge in 1986 that they would try to boost the percentage of black firefighters to 25 percent.

Another suggestion was that the county encourage diversity in the volunteer ranks that have made up a large part of the department hiring pool.

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