Fire Department aims to widen recruiting

By LISA MARTÍNEZ THE GAZETTE Updated: May 13, 2005 at 12:00 am • Published: May 13, 2005
The vision is clear: Make sure the Colorado Springs Fire Department mirrors the community it serves. Making it a reality, though, is the challenge. The Fire Department is having a hard time recruiting ethnic minority and female candidates, despite the many job fairs and high school visits it hosts, Capt. Tony Exum said. Officials hope the presence of about 100 ethnic minority role models at an event this weekend will help boost enrollment numbers. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Fire Department complex, 375 Printers Parkway, the de- partment will host the “Pass the Torch Academy,” in which minority adults will talk to youngsters about firefighting. Youths can try on fire gear, climb ladders and see demonstrations of how someone is extracted from an automobile. They will also learn about the hiring process. Among the minority leaders planning to attend are Fire Chief Manuel Navarro and Mayor Lionel Rivera. The event, in its second year, was publicized at schools, churches and other locations. “If we say we’re an equal-opportunity employer, we need to make it happen,” said Exum, who is coordinating the event. The number of ethnic minorities and women in the department is disproportionate to the Colorado Springs community. For example, the overall Hispanic population in Colorado Springs is 12 percent, but just 8 percent of the city’s firefighters are Hispanic. Blacks represent 6 percent of the population but only 2 percent of the firefighters. Part of the problem is that requirements to join the force have changed in recent years, Exum said. Candidates now need to be certified through emergency medical classes and pass a physical ability test before applying. And a lot of times, the applicants have to pay for those pre-application classes and tests, he said. That alone limits the number of overall applicants, and the applicant pool for minorities is even narrower, Exum said. Juliet Draper, a 14-year black firefighter, has her own ideas about why minorities don’t look at firefighting as a possible career. They may think of firefighting as a white, male-dominated profession, she said. And they might think firefighting isn’t a possibility, considering they rarely see someone like themselves in the field, she said. “When was the last time you saw a black firefighter on TV?” Draper said. “You don’t. What does that say to little black girls? It says minorities just don’t do this kind of work.” Draper wants to make sure every child has the opportunity to one day be a firefighter, because during her father’s days, it wasn’t an option. Even with high test scores, he was turned down for a job because of his skin color, she said. “My dad said they just weren’t hiring blacks, that’s it, and he went on to the post office,” Draper said. Times have changed, and Draper wants to change the mind-set many minorities still have, she said. “If they don’t see a black firefighter get off that ladder, they’ll think it’s not an option,” said Draper, 38. “So, I’ll be up there on that ladder.” CONTACT THE WRITER: 476-1669 or lmartinez@gazette.com THE DETAILS About 420 firefighters work for the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Here is a breakdown of minority firefighters, compared with the city’s population, based on the 2000 U.S. Census: - 8 percent Hispanic firefighters; 12 percent overall population - Less than 2 percent black firefighters; 6 percent of population - Less than 1 percent Asian firefighters; 2.8 percent of population - 0 percent American Indian firefighters; 0.9 percent of population - About 89 percent white firefighters; 80 percent of population - 8 percent female firefighters; 50 percent population
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