Firefighters in St. Louis County do not look like those they are trained to protect
In Hazelwood, none of the city’s 36 firefighters is black although nearly a third of its residents are African-American.
In neighboring Ferguson, more than 67 percent of residents are black, compared with 7 percent of firefighters.
And in the Florissant Valley Fire Protection District, two of the 60 firefighters are black, representing 3.3 percent of the department. By comparison, more than a quarter of the residents who live in that part of the region are African-American.
The situation is the same throughout the parts of St. Louis County with large African-American populations. With the Justice Department fresh off an investigation here after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, more cities are being scrutinized for their hiring practices amid criticism that minorities are systemically underrepresented in public employment.
And why this disparity? The next two paragraphs should be very familiar to you if you’ve been reading this space since August 9.
Fire chiefs say that there are not enough qualified black applicants and that blacks hired are hard to retain, often recruited by other departments that offer better pay and benefits in communities with fewer emergency calls.
“Even when we are fortunate to hire a minority, we don’t get to hold onto them for very long,” Hazelwood Fire Chief Dave Radel said. He said part of the reason for a lack of blacks on his department came from having two fire protection districts that also serve parts of his city. It doesn’t take long for firefighters on mutual aid calls to begin talking and find where the better salaries are, he said.
Really now, this is getting too easy.
If both places will have you, because you’re black, where would you rather go? Monarch or Metro West where you’ll get paid well for getting cats down from trees, or any FPD in North County where your fire house will be a city of the bells, you have to go out on a run for every shooting and murder, and at a lower pay scale?