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NC city seeking ways to diversify fire department

Lateral hiring, a consultant, a symposium and changing how interviews are handled were all suggestions on how to diversify the department

By Monica Vendituoli
The Fayetteville Observer

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — Lateral hiring, a consultant, a symposium and changing how interviews are handled were all suggestions on how to diversify the Fayetteville Fire Department that the City Council discussed during a work session Tuesday night.

At the meeting, Fire Department Chief Ben Major said about 2.9 percent of Fayetteville's firefighters are black.

A survey of 20 North Carolina cities found that the average percentage of black firefighters was 10.8 percent.

A little more than 40 percent of all Fayetteville residents are black.

In 2016, then Councilman Chalmers McDougald raised the issue of diversity in the department. He asked the council to discuss the issue multiple times.

At previous council meetings, McDougald said he ran into difficulties trying to arrange a meeting with senior city staff members to learn more about hiring practices for firefighters.

McDougald said he was surprised to learn that of the nearly 700 applicants, almost 150 were black and 65 were women.

At Tuesday's meeting, Major said a symposium on hiring diversity will be hosted Jan. 30 at Fayetteville State University.

In addition, the city is negotiating a contract with The Pittman McLenagan Group, a business management consulting group, to improve hiring practices. The Maryland-based group was chosen out of six consulting firms.

The firm will look into how the city can improve diversity hiring throughout all of its departments.

Deputy Fire Chief Hieu Sifford said the contract with that group should be finalized in the next couple of days.

Councilman Jim Arp suggested that the city look into lateral hiring, or hiring firefighters from other departments, to increase diversity.

“You have to expand the supply,” Arp said. “We do it for the Police Department.”

The Fayetteville Police Department is notably more diverse than the Fire Department with 36 percent of its employees being minorities.

Councilwoman Tisha Waddell raised concerns with the written and interview portions of the application. Waddell and other council members raised concerns about the weighing of the interview. She said she is worried that the interview portion might be too subjective.

Sifford said the written portion of the test is given 40 percent weight whereas an interview panel is given 60 percent.

After the written exam in 2017, the amount of black male applicants went from 130 to 27.

Sifford said the Fire Department will work with the consultant to see how the interview portion can be improved. Some suggestions he has received include having a civilian on the interview panel or a member of the city’s human resources department.

“We are looking forward to making the Fayetteville fire and police departments better for the citizens they protect,” Sifford said.

Copyright 2018 The Fayetteville Observer

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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