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Lack of Minority Firefighters a 'Problem,' But New Exam Could Help: City

By Ted Cox | October 24, 2014 5:14pm
 Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago arrives at the City Council for budget hearings Friday.
Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago arrives at the City Council for budget hearings Friday.
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DNAinfo/Ted Cox

CITY HALL — The Fire Department hopes a new hiring exam in December will help boost the number of minorities working in its firehouses, which officials admit is too low.

"We know we have a problem with the amount of minorities we have," said Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago in testimony Friday before a City Council budget hearing.

According to department figures, the 4,965 staffed firefighters are 65 percent white, 18 percent African-American and 13 percent Hispanic. That breakdown did not improve this year. Of 316 new hires, 72 percent were white, 19 percent Hispanic and just 7 percent African-American.

"I don't believe you're hiring many minorities at all," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd). "I would like to see these numbers reflected differently," she added. "I'm concerned with how we reach parity."

Santiago said he was out to see the department reflect the diversity of the city at large and emphasized how he was looking for "a large, diversified pool" of potential recruits, which he expected to be produced by the new firefighter exam to be conducted in December.

It's the first firefighter exam in years. Santiago said this year's hires were the product of a 2006 exam.

According to the department, of the 25,375 who have registered to take the exam Dec. 13 and 14 at McCormick Place, 11,199 are white, or 44 percent, 5,698 are African-American, or 22 percent, 6,018 are Hispanic, or 24 percent, and 320 Asian, or just over 1 percent.

Ald. Nicholas Sposato (36th), a former city firefighter, said almost twice that total number took the exam in 1985, when he did. He blamed fellow aldermen for not getting the word out better and said he had "worked my butt off" to publicize the exam in his area of the city.

Some aldermen bridled at that accusation, including Ald. Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Budget Committee. Yet many also agreed the department had to hire more minorities as soon as possible.

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