seeking to sign up more minority firefighters;
Number of blacks in Fort Worth department
stagnant, they say
By Bechetta Jackson
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
FORT WORTH -- When
David Coble joined the Fort Worth Fire Department 16 years ago, he was
one of about 80 African- American firefighters. Today,
there are 93, two of them female. Most black firefighters joined the department
in the 1970s and '80s, and are reaching retirement age, department officials
"Our numbers are not going
up," Coble, a fire captain, told a predominantly black audience at Wednesday's
Minority Leaders and Citizens Council luncheon. "We are having a difficult
time motivating people of color to join the department."
Coble and three other members
of the local group, African-American Firefighters Reaching Out, appealed
to minority leaders to help spread the word about job opportunities in
the fire service.
Young African-Americans typically
do not consider firefighting as a career when they graduate from high school
or college, said Coble, president of the organization that formed in 1988
to boost the visibility of black firefighters.
"They don't see many firefighters
who look like them," said James R. Tate, a 26-year department veteran.
"We're trying to both recruit and serve as role models to them."
African-Americans are not
the only minority group in need of greater representation.
Of the 746 firefighters in
the city, 85 are Hispanic, 17 are women, and two are Asian- American and
Native American, said Battalion Chief Cager Mitchell, the department's
"We're having a difficult
time competing with private industry," said Mitchell, 57, who became the
city's first African- American firefighter in 1967.
"I'm not sure that we're
committing the resources that the private industry is investing to get
these people," he said.
Members of the black firefighters
group visit schools, youth centers and job fairs on their own time to talk
about the benefits of their job, Tate said.
"We're doing everything that
we can to bring qualified African-American candidates in," he said.
A high school diploma or
GED certificate is the only educational requirement needed to apply for
the job that pays an annual starting salary of $37,000. Applicants age
18 to 35 must also pass a civil service exam, physical fitness and polygraph
tests and a criminal background check.
At least five black firefighters
are expected to retire this year, Mitchell said.
"From all indications, the
number of black firefighters will go down dramatically over the next five
years," he said. "We are going to need qualified people to replace them."
Firefighting is only about
15 percent of the job, Coble said. Firefighters also inspect buildings
and fire hydrants, serve as emergency medical technicians and provide fire
safety education and training.
"It's not just racing to
fires," he said. "All we ask is that people consider the fire service as
Worth Fire Dept.