City Hall and the New Haven Fire Department are working to encourage more women and people of color to become firefighters.
City spokesman Laurence Grotheer said the NHFD is currently understaffed and that Mayor Toni Harp is eager to hire qualified firefighters who better represent the areas they serve. Last week, the New Haven Independent reported that NHFD Chief John Alston said it was “unacceptable” that women constitute less than 8 percent of the city’s firefighters.
“In 2017 there are plans for one or two classes of recruits at the fire training school to fill vacancies that exist and it is the Mayor’s hope that those classes will include men and women representing the diversity of the city,” Grotheer said.
According to its website, the department currently employs a staff of 400, including 360 fire suppression and emergency medical services positions.
Grotheer added that Harp has been working to recruit more people of color through a public safety academy at James Hillhouse High School in which students learn the basics of public safety and also available professional opportunities. The program is a joint project between the New Haven Public Schools, the University of New Haven and the NHFD.
At a general meeting of the Greater New Haven National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last week, branch president Dori Dumas told Alston that his department must hire more women and people of color, the Independent reported. In response, Alston promised to diversify the ranks of the department.
When fire department contracts expire in June 2018, the fire department may have 30 to 50 job openings, according to the Independent.
Alston did not return four phone calls and three voicemails requesting comment Tuesday.
Grotheer said since Harp became mayor, she has been committed to recruiting and training new firefighters, and hopes that more New Haven residents will pursue career opportunities within the department. Just last week, a new class of firefighters who were also trained as paramedics graduated from the fire training academy, he added.
Barbara Fair, a longtime New Haven activist and member of City Hall’s Community and Police Relations Task Force, has been working to diversify the New Haven Police Department and said that diversifying the fire department is just as essential.
“[Firefighters] are people working in the New Haven community,” she said. “We want people who will actually embrace New Haven and will do the best job they can for their residents.”
Fair added that disparities in education constitute some of the greatest barriers to people from underrepresented groups seeking to join the police and fire departments, and that the city must work to reduce “stumbling blocks” in the entrance process.
Alston was sworn in as fire chief on Dec. 22.