A fraternal organization for Toledo's African-American firefighters is concerned that that this year's fire class has no black trainees, and the group wants the recruitment test changed and the selection process reviewed.
“Our concern is with the current hiring practice. At the rate this is headed, soon we'll be right back in the situation [that brought on the consent decree], and we want to avoid that,” said Glen Frames, president of Glass City Black Brothers United.
In 1974, the city was ordered to end discriminatory hiring practices in the police and fire departments and to maintain certain levels of minorities under a federal court consent decree. It was under order to maintain about 17 percent black and 3 percent Hispanic employees in the fire department. It remains under the consent decree.
Now about 70 percent of the fire department is white, 22 percent is African-American, and more than 7 percent is Hispanic. According to the 2000 census, about 68 percent of the city is white, 23 percent is black, and more than 5 percent is Hispanic.
Toledo Fire Chief Mike Bell said an African-American didn't make the class because of the 10 black candidates who could have been considered, nine didn't pass background checks and the 10th wasn't accepted for medical reasons.
Jay Black, Jr., Toledo's chief operating officer, said the city would consider adding black trainees to the current class if it can do so legally. He recently met with the fraternal group to listen to its concerns. He said he's relying on Chief Bell and the city's human resources department to address the concerns because they are “technical in nature.”
However, he made a request of the organization: “I asked their group to step up their efforts to identify minority candidates and to mentor them,” said Mr. Black, who is African-American.
Mr. Frames said the organization is planning to mentor applicants taking the next recruitment test. He said some black firefighters have mentored applicants in the past.
During the last 10 years, of the approximately 244 firefighters hired, only 26 have been African-American, Mr. Frames said. Fewer black trainees and more African-American retirees during the next several years could reduce the number of black firefighters.
The current training class, which will begin a 26-week training session earlier this month, is comprised of five men and five women. Three trainees are Hispanic, one is Asian, and the other six are white.
Chief Bell, who also is black, said that of the 1,159 people who took the test last year, African-Americans were the only group that had more people fail than pass. Seventy-two percent of whites that took the test passed, as did 71 percent of applicants of other races. Sixty-three percent of Hispanics passed, while just 48 percent of blacks did so.
The chief said more blacks withdrew from the process, meaning they didn't show up for the written exam, than any other group. That's a trend that has been seen during the last five tests.
Mr. Frames said his organization would like a more general knowledge test even though applicants are given a booklet to study 30 days before the exam. He said he's concerned about “technical knowledge” on the test, such as questions regarding building construction, burns, and emergency medical services.
Mr. Frames said applicants who have early access to the information, such as those whose relatives are firefighters or those who are volunteer firefighters in other towns, tend to fare better on the test.
He said his organization would like to review the files of applicants who passed the exam to make sure no one was overlooked. The group also would like to have one or two African-American trainees added to the current class.
Mr. Black said human resources will look at the test but he said, “We feel the test is open to all groups.” Jim Martin, interim president of Toledo Firefighters Local 92, said the recruitment test should be updated. Mr. Black said the fire class is “pretty diverse” even though it doesn't include an African-American. He said he's not concerned about the number of black firefighters' falling to figures seen nearly 30 years ago.