Early Recruitment in the Inner City: A Possible Answer to the Fire Service’s Diversity Problem

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Rena WHeeler

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Fire departments across the United States struggle to find diverse, qualified applicants, and the Indianapolis Fire Department (IFD) is no exception. The department’s previous recruitment efforts, specifically its outreach and recruitment program at Arsenal Technical High School (ATHS), have seen limited success. In 2012, the ATHS Fire Rescue Program (FRP), created in one of the city’s most economically depressed areas, attempted to reach a population segment that typically does not consider the fire service a career path. In the program’s 10 years, it has produced zero firefighters for the IFD. Although several candidates have been inspired and have attempted to go through the extensive hiring process, none have scored high enough in the oral interview (the second of eight events) to move on. Over the last 10 years, program graduates have entered just three hiring processes, only to experience the same disappointing outcome. Although a valiant effort in community outreach, the ATHS-FRP has not produced the expected results. This thesis sought to examine difficulties seen by the program, such as low classroom attendance rates, poor academic performance, and the three-year gap between high school graduation and the minimum hiring age for the IFD.

Chapter II reviews the recruitment background of the IFD in terms of challenges and successes, specifically with the inner-city ATHS-FRP The challenges include the IFD’s federally mandated consent decree and current demographics. Looking to the Indianapolis Black Firefighters Association (BFA) and its community outreach efforts, the chapter turns to the ATHS-FRP, a class for inner-city high school juniors and seniors to develop the skills required to become a firefighter with hands-on experience. This class meets every school day during school hours, and students can test for state fire certifications while receiving both high school and college credits.

Chapter III explores the history of diversity in the workplace and its relation to the IFD’s recruitment efforts. It investigates the dynamics of diversity in the fire service and how not every applicant is a good fit for the profession. Moreover, it discusses the qualities that make a good firefighter: integrity, morality, capacity for teamwork, compassion, and a drive to serve the community.

Case studies from police recruitment and retainment efforts reveal lessons learned and development opportunities. Chapter IV addresses police recruitment’s similarities to and differences from the fire service. Lessons from this comparison include the need to educate people about what the job entails before they apply, the importance of building community trust through positive engagements with the citizens, and the effect of mentorship on newly hired employees.

Chapter V explores why the IFD program was created, its intended outcomes, critical problems, successes, and failures. It identifies the demographics and characteristics of the students served by the program and key components of the structure and day-to-day operations of the class. The chapter also traces the evolution of the mentor program to meet the program’s needs—this component of the course has positively affected students over the years. Community involvement, another successful endeavor of the program, teaches students to look at themselves in a new light.

Chapter VI offers seven recommendations for improving the ATHS-FRP:

  1. The program needs more students than just those at ATHS; other Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) students and those who go to private schools in Indianapolis should be eligible.
  2. Along the same line, the class should reserve up to five spots for “legacy students”—sons and daughters of IFD employees who reside in the suburbs. Adding students who are more academically minded would increase the standards and expectations of the program.
  3. If the first two recommendations come to fruition, the ATHS-FRP should reinstate the emergency medical technician class in the students’ senior year.
  4. Also, the program ought to emphasize jobs for public safety telecommunicators in Indianapolis as an option for post-graduate employment; IFD’s communications positions are continuously short-staffed and especially need bilingual employees.
  5. When they apply for the IFD in the future, program graduates in good standing should be awarded half a point to their application packet.
  6. The department ought to create a part-time job with the IFD in a civilian capacity for graduates in good standing. Such a position will help fill the three-year gap between graduation and the IFD’s minimum hiring age of 21.
  7. Finally, IFD leadership and the IPS need to consider the possibility of moving the program from the ATHS campus to the new IFD Training Facility. This potentially controversial option would give the instructors more opportunities for training scenarios. The students would have the experience of being at an actual training facility instead of the chaotic ATHS campus.

Such efforts to increase the impact of the ATHS-FRP will provide more qualified diverse candidates for the IFD in the future.

 

 

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