The Fayetteville Fire Department has designated a veteran fire captain as its official recruiter. The position was established in November without city support. “We had to take a firefighter off the line since the position hasn’t been funded,” said Fire Chief Ben Major. Officials said they will include payroll for a recruiter in next fiscal year’s budget. In the meantime, the department is one man short at the fire station where the recruiter was previously assigned.
Major said the recruiter position had not been approved by city council in previous budgets, but he’s confident it will be in the FY2019 budget process. The department’s recruiting effort is aimed at improving the employment of minority firefighters.
“We don’t have a recruiting problem; we have a diversity recruiting problem,” Major told city council. He said that out of the FFD’s 331 employees, nine are African American. Major himself is one of the nine.
In a memo to city council, the chief said the fire department “continues to face challenges in improving diversity within the organization.” He outlined measures designed to assist the department in increasing racial integration of the workforce. These include hosting a symposium on recruiting for diversity that will feature speakers discussing best practices and what has worked well for other municipal fire departments. The symposium will be held Jan. 30 at the student center of Fayetteville State University.
The city has retained the Pittman McLenagan Group, L.C. of Bethesda, Maryland, to consult with the fire department on project management experience, project understanding, personnel qualifications and general qualifications. Pittman McLenagan describes itself online as a small, woman-owned firm providing a broad spectrum of employment consulting services for organizations seeking to improve their procedures. Other strategies include sponsoring enhanced preparatory workshops for potential candidates and partnering with agencies that share an interest in workforce development.
“What’s the choke point for candidates?” asked Councilman Jim Arp. He wanted to know why many minorities failed to make the hiring cut. Major said it was the written test that all applicants take. The results count 40 percent in the application evaluation process. Personal interviews with a city Human Resource Committee count 60 percent, Major said.
City Attorney Karen MacDonald told council the city’s diversity committee is reviewing the application process to determine if the process itself is part of the problem.
Nearly 700 applicants applied to fill 30 fire department vacancies in the most recent academy. Major did not know how many of the candidates were black.
“You need to open the tool box,” Arp told Major. He suggested allowing certified firefighters from other communities to be hired, as the police department does. Lateral hiring, as it’s known, could help improve integration, Arp added.
“You’re the professionals, so figure it out,” Mayor Mitch Colvin told Major.