Looks like we’re on step closer to seeing a cadet program in the Boston Fire Department. Mayor Marty Walsh signed a Home Rule Petition to make the cadet program a reality. It was approved by the City Council and now it’s off to the State House.
See press release below.
Friday, June 14, 2019 – Mayor Martin J. Walsh today announced he signed a Home Rule Petition to establish a cadet program at the Boston Fire Department (BFD) and provide a stable pipeline of diverse young people for future firefighter classes. As part of his legislative agenda, Mayor Walsh filed the proposal as a Home Rule Petition in January 2019, and it was recently approved by the Boston City Council, and now moves to the Massachusetts Legislature for final approval.
“It is essential that our City’s workforce reflects our city’s people,” said Mayor Walsh. “Since taking office, diversifying our departments and public safety agencies has been a top priority. Reviving the Boston Police cadet program has proven to be a successful way to diversify the force by attracting a more diverse pool of candidates. I’m proud to now take this proposal to the Legislature and I urge them to approve our first-ever fire cadet program. I thank the Council for approving this Home Rule Petition.”
The Massachusetts Legislature must approve the City’s ability to create a cadet program, which they did for the Boston Police Department (BPD) in 1979. Since Mayor Walsh reinstated the BPD cadet program in 2016, there have been two classes that have embodied the diversity of our city. In both classes, more than 60 percent of the cadets have been people of color and more than 30 percent have been women. Aspiring cadets have also represented Boston’s linguistic diversity, collectively speaking Spanish, Haitian Creole, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Cape Verdean Creole, among others.
“Making sure Boston’s employment opportunities are available to all and ensuring the workforce that keeps us safe reflects the diversity of the City of Boston requires us to continue these important conversations about the tools we need to make it happen,” said Representative Chynah Tyler who will file the bill on behalf of the Mayor at the State House. “I look forward to working with the City and State to further this discussion.”
The effort to diversify the department underscores the need to curb a national trend of underrepresentation of women and people of color in fire suppression services, demonstrated by the fact that under four percent of firefighters nationally are women and 16 percent of firefighters are people of color, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among the top cities nationally, for fire departments which do not have a dual role of being a fire-based EMS operation, such as Boston, the percent of female firefighters hovers at one percent. The City of Boston currently has 17 women and 416 people of color in a firefighting force of approximately 1,500.
BFD’s newest recruit class of 53 was sworn in last week, marking the most diverse class since 2003. Of the 53 new firefighters, 20 are people of color, including seven Asians, seven Latinos, and six African Americans. At the same time, the class consisted of 52 males and one female (BFD’s first Asian American female firefighter), reinforcing the need to further diversify recruitment efforts. BFD has twice applied to the state for a Selective Certification List to include a targeted number of female firefighters in new recruit classes; both of these requests were denied, most recently as October 2018.
Cognizant that civil service rules statutorily dictates the Department’s hiring process by law, BFD proactively hired a diversity recruitment officer in an effort to attract diverse candidates to become firefighters.
Under Mayor Walsh, many operational changes have been made in the Department’s firehouses over the last several years to improve workplace conditions for female firefighters, including strengthening policies around the designation of women-only bathrooms in firehouses with permanently assigned female firefighters; installing exterior combination locks on the outside door of women’s bathrooms; creating permanent seven foot walls between bunks, each with their own sliding door with an internal lock, to afford greater privacy in sleeping quarters, a huge improvement in living/workplace conditions not previously required through the Hansford decree; conducting extensive training for all district, deputy chiefs and captains regarding issues of respectful workplaces; and conducting ongoing meetings with female firefighters to hear concerns and address issues.
While the City needs State law to be changed to begin the program, Mayor Walsh’s FY20 budget includes $175,000 for a fire cadet class. Mayor Walsh has prioritized outfitting the Boston Fire Department for the 21st century and has committed more than $92 million in his FY20-FY24 Capital Budget for infrastructure improvements. The Boston Fire Department will soon rebuild two fire stations, and has received 40 new fire trucks, replacing 50 percent of its entire fleet in the past four years alone. In addition to infrastructure investments, BFD leadership has undergone extensive workplace training every year, including 30,000 hours total in training which includes anti-harassment, discrimination and respectful workplace training in the last year alone, an over 300 percent increase in training hours compared to four years ago.
For more information on Mayor Walsh’s legislative agenda, please visit here.
Maureen Dahill is the editor of Caught in Southie and a lifelong resident of South Boston sometimes mistaken for a yuppie. Co-host of Caught Up, storyteller, lover of red wine and binge watching TV series. Mrs. Peter G. Follow her @MaureenCaught.
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