Anne Arundel fire chief touts plan to focus on diversity

After being criticized for having a nearly all-white recruit class this summer, the Anne Arundel County Fire Department unveiled this week a new plan for improving diversity in hiring.

Officials say the department's recruitment plan includes several strategies aimed at getting minorities interested in joining the fire service and successfully applying.

For example, officials will recruit more minorities into the volunteer firefighting service, as volunteers are given preference in hiring for county jobs. Officials will also continue to recruit for entry-level firefighters and firefighters who have some experience.

There also will be mentors to help applicants through the process. Half of all minority applicants never show up for the written test, and mentors could help with that, Fire Chief Michael Cox said Tuesday as he previewed the plan for the Caucus of African-American Leaders.

To get the word out about Fire Department jobs, the plan calls for recruiters to attend career days, job fairs and community events, reach out to minority-focused community groups and churches, and to place ads in media that reach minorities, such as newspapers and radio stations.

Cox said other steps he's taken include creating an internal recruitment work group and partnering the Department of Recreation and Parks and local Boys & Girls Clubs to help with youth outreach.

The department will create a recruitment advisory committee to communicate regularly with the community about its efforts. The committee will include representatives from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, black members of the clergy, Hispanic groups, Asian groups and the county's Human Relations Commission.

After more minorities are hired, the department will also need to work on retention and promotion, Cox said.

During his talk Tuesday, Cox pointed out that while critics said the new recruit class was all-white, there actually were three minorities in the class. Still, he said, that's "far from what we should have."

He told the few dozen people gathered at the meeting at the Bates Heritage Center in Annapolis that it will take time to make the fire service look more like the communities it serves.

"This isn't something that's going to be solved overnight," he said.

Carl Snowden, organizer of the Caucus of African-American Leaders, said the new plan is a good first step toward diversifying the Fire Department.

Anne Arundel County is 76.9 percent white, 16.1 percent African-American, 3.7 percent Asian and 6.6 percent Hispanic, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The department is currently 92 percent white, 5 percent African-American, 1 percent Asian and about 1 percent "other," officials said. The department is about 87 percent male.

The department plans more academy classes and could hire up to 100 firefighters over the next year. An independent arbiter ruled this year that the department must keep a 24-hours-on, 72-hours-off shift for firefighters, rather than the 24-hours-on, 48-hours-off shift that the county had proposed. The county needs to hire more firefighters to fill the 24/72 schedule.

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