The Baltimore City Fire Department launched a new hiring process yesterday, a month after it was reported that the agency had hired its first all-white class of recruits since it integrated in 1953.
In a city with a predominantly black population and the mayor pledging racial diversity in city agencies, the Fire Department's failure to have any minorities in the class embarrassed officials and drew a discrimination lawsuit threat from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
"This is not about lowering standards. This is about improving our recruitment efforts," Mayor Martin O'Malley said yesterday of the new hiring process he ordered after learning of the all-white class from a report in The Sun. "And that really was the failing. It was a failure to proactively recruit."
Fire Chief William J. Goodwin Jr. took the blame for appointing the class - which was hired in February and is expected to graduate from the academy in September - and said the agency knew in 2002 that it had a problem attracting a racially diverse pool of applicants.
"Our position is that we've got to make something positive happen from this," said department spokesman James J. Gardner. "So, we are geared up to make sure the Fire Department is representative of the community we serve."
The Fire Department will accept applications for admittance to an entrance test at 9 a.m. June 12 at the Baltimore Convention Center. Applications will be available until the 1,800 testing slots are filled. The department also will use a new test endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
By 4:30 p.m. yesterday, about 150 applications had been received, Gardner said. The department hopes to fill all spots by Sunday.
The department plans to hire 50 people Oct. 1 from a list of people passing the test. City residents will be given a preference.
Those interested in applying must be at least 18 by Oct. 1, have a valid driver's license and high school diploma or GED. Applications can be picked up at any firehouse or the department's headquarters; completed forms must be turned in at headquarters.
On April 20, The Sun reported the Fire Department's recruiting and hiring struggles, which led to the hiring of the current class of 30 men and women - only five of whom are from the city; nine were from Pennsylvania. O'Malley criticized Goodwin and human resources Executive Director Elliott L. Wheelan for not improving the hiring system more quickly and announced new hiring procedures.