Councilman wants more minority representation on WM Fire Department
McClendon: ‘ We have to do more’
Councilman Marco Mc-Clendon continued to voice concerns over minority recruitment, hiring and retention at the West Memphis Fire Department during its April meeting. In March, McClendon requested staffing percentages concerning women and minorities on the department.
McClendon wondered about nepotism and asked department brass about barriers preventing the complexion of the department from reflecting the makeup of the city.
Department figures showed 15 of the 64 positions filled with minorities.
McClendon broached the topic delicately but said the proportions don’t represent city demographics.
“I want to be careful how I say this,” said McClendon.
“What can we do to attract more minorities? West Memphis is a 70 percent African American city but its all about. I am asking this because it has come to me many times that it is very difficult for Black officers to be hired. I find it a little disturbing to find that minimum number of Blacks on the fire department.”
McClendon asked for reimbursements for certification training. “We have to shoot harder, we have to do more to get them qualified,” said Mc-Clendon.
Assistant Chief Jones said the department actively recruits and adheres to national standards for testing and evaluation.
“We don’t have anything to do with the certifications,” said Jones. “Certifi- cations and licensing is not required to test, it can be anybody applicant “off the street.” Applications are taken year round and the entry test, agility evaluation, happens twice a year.” “It was 40 percent minority,” said Jones. “We sent letters to three women, but only one woman showed up.”
She declined to try the test after seeing the demonstration.
One obstacle may be job duties. The WMFD department hires for firefighter/EMT.
“A lot of women don’t care about being a firefighter, they want to be EMTs,”” said Jones. “In this area you see a lot of women working as EMTs.” Councilor Ramona Taylor turned the focus to recruiting and asked about using Workforce and sponsoring an Explorer Scouting troop. “We’ve never talked to Workforce, but we talk to colleges, like ASU-Mid South,” said Jones.
“When we get applications we cannot ask whether they are minorities or not,” said Jones. “Its against the law.” Chief Wayne Gately gave a history of hiring practices on his watch and noted changes.
“When I started as chief six and a half years ago, we gave everybody twelve months to complete their training,” said Gately.
“We’ve hire 52 people.
We’ve lost a bunch of people, White and Black. The first two years I was chief guys sloughed it off, didn’t get the certification and I had to let them go White and Black about equal.
He said EMT certification is key. After course work there is three chances to pass national certification.
It takes a quarter of a year.
“So now in three months time, if they haven’t passed it, we get rid of them no matter what color they are.
But when we’ve hired people that already have their EMT license, we haven’t lost any of them. It isn’t feasible to give 12 months to get the EMT license because we paid them a year salary and bought $800 worth of uniform stuff, $3500 worth of protective gear and its all down the drain. That is why I changed it.”
The chief says he proactively recruits. The department participates in job fairs and Gately is on campus.
“The college teaches two EMT classes a years,” said Gately. “We look at those. I go to encourage them if they want to be a firefighter to get their EMT license and to come apply.”
Gately didn’t see it as a lack of hiring but an inability to compete for wages and responsibilities. Some other departments don’t require the firefighting and medic combination. Gately said the training and requirements helps keep the department at ISO 1 status and reduces insurance premiums for everyone in the city. Pay for the combined responsibilities might be the real barrier.
“We’ve lost several minorities to other departments,” said Gately.
“Several minorities have gone to other fire departments.
We had a hose man
go to a larger city with more certifications then their chief.”
The fire department pay issue came up two years ago after the police department consolidated positions, added responsibilities and boosted pay for some of the top officers. But now increases were allotted outside what employees enjoyed city wide.
McClendon pressed the issue with one more inquiry concerning nepotism.
“There are a lot of sons that work at the fire department,” said Gately. “There are a lot of second generation firefighters working there.”
In the end councilor Taylor called for the department to partner with human resources to produce a summary of applicants, and those attending the agility
By John Rech