Chicago Fire Department officials face calls for greater diversity in ranks

Chicago has the largest number of women fighting fires and working on ambulances of any city in the country, but they make up less than 10% of the department's total personnel


By John Byrne
Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — Chicago has the largest number of women fighting fires and working on ambulances of any city in the country, the city’s fire commissioner said Wednesday, but they make up less than 10% of the department’s total personnel.

In a department that has long dealt with diversity issues, aldermen also pressed Chicago Fire Department officials to better address the under-representation of black and Latino firefighters on the force, an annual complaint when officials come to City Hall for their budget hearing.

Commissioner Richard Ford II called on aldermen to help get more minorities to take tests to get on the force.

“When we do our outreach for recruitment, we really don’t have control over who is coming in to take this test,” Ford said. “What I would like to do is work with the aldermen, work with (Department of Human Resources) to increase that list, and thereby increase the diversity.”

There are now 450 women working as firefighters or paramedics, Ford said, compared with just 116 women in 2011. That’s “the largest amount of female members, firefighters and paramedics, in the country,” Ford said.

But the 4,700-member department is still more than 90% male, he said.

The Fire Department is asking for $40 million for overtime in 2020, after budgeting $30 million this year. The department routinely runs past the budgeted overtime amount. In 2018, the Fire Department overtime totaled $58.8 million, according to the city.

Ford said the department isn’t hiring new firefighters quickly enough to keep up with attrition as people retire, requiring high overtime expenditures each year. He said he hopes a new hiring program being put in place will allow the city to fill vacancies more quickly. “As we reduce the amount of vacancies, we thereby reduce significantly the amount of overtime taking place,” he said.

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©2019 the Chicago Tribune

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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