Recruiters 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 said. 

    "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 recruiter. 

    "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 a career." 

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