They are the everyday heroes who rescue families from burning buildings, provide medical intervention in emergency situations and work closely with the community to provide fire prevention education. The City of Saint Paul, Minnesota has recognized the immense importance of having a Fire Department that is not only deeply committed to serving the community, but also reflective of that community’s residents. As a city with a large immigrant population, Saint Paul has worked to develop an increasingly diverse Fire Department that will more effectively educate and serve its citizens.
In the Fall of 2013, Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman set out to convene a Fire Department Diversity Task Force made up of a diverse group of stakeholders and representatives from the community. The Mayor partnered with Council members, Fire and Human Resources Senior Management, Firefighter unions and Firefighter diversity groups, Fire personnel from internal ranks and other departments, the School District, NAACP, HREEO Commission, Counsel from Regional Legal Services, Senators, and representatives from the Native American, Hispanic, Asian, and African American communities. The Task Force worked over seven meetings to identify action items that would support and improve the diversity of new hires, shape retention initiatives, and build the inclusiveness in the Saint Paul Fire Department overall.
The Task Force first analyzed each of the steps in the recruitment and selection process. This included looking at minimum qualifications, recruitment strategies, as well as application, testing and hiring processes. They identified barriers and points at which the City may have adverse impact. Second, they planned targeted recruitment strategies such as community events, public forums, fire station open houses, and high school and college presentations. Lastly, the Task Force advised on the training preparation provided to candidates prior to the testing process.
Inclusion and Engagement
Saint Paul brought together local government and many community stakeholders to advance their vision of a more racially equitable Fire Department.
The next step was actually implementing the ideas that came out of the Task Force. Utilizing current firefighters from diverse backgrounds to recruit, the Department communicated through a variety of avenues to reach different groups of people. Messages were tailored to diverse communities through social media. The Department also worked hard to build relationships with community groups. One powerful effort in this regard involved inviting current firefighters to share their experiences with candidates, which helped break down barriers and provide validation of attainable goals. Additionally, current firefighters built relationships with candidates of color, keeping candidates engaged during the lengthy hiring process. All Saint Paul firefighters are required to be Emergency Medical Technicians, so candidates not holding that certification must obtain it before interviewing with the Department. About 25% of Saint Paul firefighters also become Paramedics. Current firefighters helped to ensure each candidate understood the next steps, expectations, and resources available to help them get the job.
Applicant data, written and physical exam pass rates, in addition to “no-show” rates were documented and analyzed as part of this process. Data was broken down by ethnic group and compared to the results from the previous recruitment and selection process and the current workforce utilization. The Department had theorized that the more candidates of color in the applicant pool, the greater the probability of increasing the diversity in the department. And they were correct! In 2014 the Department saw increases in African American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American applicants as a result of the Task Force’s efforts.
Data Driven and Accountable
Saint Paul gathers useful data on their Fire Department applicants in order to track their progress over time.
The success of the City of Saint Paul in promoting equity within their Fire Department shows that when community members, advocates and government work together, the results can be truly inspiring. The Fire Department Diversity Task Force not only helped to diversify the Fire Department, it also effectively built better relationships across communities, advanced trust and created strong alliances with groups invested in creating a more equitable Saint Paul.
Angie Nalezny,Director, Human Resources Director