Employed Minority Firefighters Don't Reflect City's Population

Published 07/02 2014 06:58PM

Updated 07/03 2014 10:09AM

PEORIA – Increasing diversity seems to be a major struggle for the Peoria Fire Department.

Minorities make up just over 15% of that workforce, and some minority groups haven’t been hired in more than 15 years.

Here’s a look:
·  The last African-American employee was hired in October 2008
·  The last and only current Hispanic employee was hired in May 2000
·  The last woman was hired in April 1998
·  The last Asian employee was hired in July 1997

The Peoria Fire Chief, Keith Tomblin, says he’s well aware of the problem.

“There's certainly a tremendous amount of room to improve,” Tomblin said.

Don Jackson, the President of the NAACP Peoria Branch, calls the issue an atrocity.

Jackson says the NAACP and many other organizations have continued fighting this problem for years.

As of Wednesday, there are 201 employed firefighters at the Peoria Fire Department.

Here’s a breakdown of minority employees:
  • 25 African-American males
  • 3 Asian males
  • 1 Hispanic male
  • 2 females

Jackson says the numbers don’t lie, and adds that they are very discouraging.

“People just simply say, ‘Well, you can't get a job at the fire department in the city of Peoria. [You] can't get a job in the police department in the city of Peoria…can't get a job with the city of Peoria in the city of Peoria!’” said Jackson.

Tomblin says his department is trying to mend the diversity divide.

“We should represent our population no matter what our population is. We're part of this group we live in this city.”

The chief says they are trying to do more to raise application numbers from minorities. He says the vigorous testing is a main roadblock because both the written and physical tests shave off large portions of people of all colors and genders.

The department will now try out a new test called Candidate Physical Ability Testing to help increase its female employees.

He says it’s a program validated by the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the International Association of Firefighters. He says the test is validated and has been proven to work effectively.

“It is made specifically for firefighters [and] what we do on an everyday basis during a fire scene. And it's tough, but it's certainly easier than what we've done in the past,” Tomblin explained.

He says his recruiters are facing an uphill battle because there’s a preconceived idea that the department is for white males. He says that’s a problem nationwide that must change.

“We need to get away from that.”

Tomblin says they are working to create more youth-oriented recruitment programs, but state-mandated restrictions pose obstacles for their recruiting.

The percentage of African-Americans in the Peoria Fire Department is 12.5%, for Asians it's Asians 1.4%, for Hispanics 1%, there are 0 Native Americans and women make up 1%.

Here's a look at national percentages of race representation.

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