With the city of Mobile’s racial demographics over 50 percent black, according to the United States Census Bureau, the city’s executive director of public safety has openly endorsed more minority hiring within the Mobile Fire-Rescue and Mobile Police departments.
Retired Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, who was hired in July by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to supervise both departments, told Lagniappe one of his overall goals is making these entities more diversified “without sacrificing quality of any sort either.”
According to data supplied by Mobile’s public safety office, MFRD has the highest white to black ratio with 406 white males compared to 82 black males, equating to 83.2 percent white and 16.8 percent black.
“We’re not against diversity,” DeWayne Patrick, president of Mobile Firefighters Local 1349, said. “But we are for doing it the right way.”
Patrick said he believes the most qualified individuals should be hired first, regardless of race. He said each prospect must complete an application that includes a background check, physical and test, which is then compiled into a list by the Personnel Board and sent to the department for consideration.
Patrick also added that there is an immediate need for hiring new recruits, as MFRD is currently short by roughly 80 to 100 firefighters.
“Numbers are growing,” he said. “We have people resigning left and right.”
Patrick cited better job offers and better benefits as some of the employees’ reasons for leaving the department while he said others are just looking to move on.
A 16-page action plan written by former interim chief Randy Smith called for more diversity within the department, and Patrick said Smith also developed a committee for diversity that firefighters were willing to join and help in any way to bring more diversity to MFRD.
However, now that Smith is no longer interim chief, Patrick said he does not know what will happen to the committee.
According to MFRD spokesman Steve Huffman, there is currently a recruitment committee that meets to do recruitment for the department.
“It is a diverse committee with representatives from each of the labor unions,” he said via email.
As in the past and currently, Huffman said the committee targets high schools and also attends various events to set up recruitment booths.
“Recruitment has been done at events that occur in the mall, at the fairgrounds and during the fair and other events,” Huffman wrote. “Pretty much anywhere they will allow us to be.”
So, who is applying for these jobs? Landolt said the public safety office is currently reviewing “many things” with the Mobile County Personnel Board and other consultants in order to determine the demographics of applicants and what steps need to be taken when it comes to hiring more diversified employees.
According to Landolt, they are still “very much in the research and discovery phase” and will need a few more weeks to know exactly where they are in their efforts.
The MPD numbers, which include Mobile County Animal Shelter employees, are 341 white males and 157 black males, which reflect 68.5 percent white and 31.5 percent black.
The last class of MPD recruits began in July and graduated in November 2013 while the next class will begin at the end of this month, MPD spokeswoman Ashley Rains said.
Rains said demographic information on these latest recruit classes was not readily available at press time.
According to Huffman, the last employees hired at MFRD were a group of seven cadets who completed training in March, and the last group hired prior to that was comprised of 27 individuals who graduated in September 2013.
Of those 34 newly hired employees, Huffman said there were 29 white males, three black males and two Hispanic males.
“Once you hire on to the Mobile Fire-Rescue Department, we’re all firefighters,” Patrick said. “There’s no black, white, Hispanic, female or male. We’re all blue. We all wear the blue uniform. And I think that’s the way everyone feels. We’re not against diversity at all whatsoever, but we are also mindful that we want the best qualified no matter what color, creed or religion. It doesn’t matter. And I’m sure the citizens feel the same way.”