With Eye On Diversity, Elgin May Relax Requirements For Firefighter Applicants

ELGIN, IL — Elgin may revise its requirements for firefighters to attract a more diverse group of applicants.

The City Council on Wednesday unanimously moved forward on changing firefighter application requirements. The city requires 60 college credit hours as a prerequisite for hiring but that would become optional if the city follows through on its proposed changes. A final vote is scheduled for June 13.

The testing fee will be reduced from $40 to $20 for the next applicantion sessions, and candidates can have the fee waived if they are in financial need.

City Council member Tish Powell said she is hopeful the changes are a step toward creating a department more reflective of the community it serves.

“If we don’t attempt something (to address diversity), then we’re doing nothing — and that’s not acceptable,” council member Terry Gavin said.

In 2016, 203 people tested to become Elgin firefighters, with 170 of them identifying as white, 22 Hispanic, two black, and five Asian, the fire department said. Five of the 203 applicants were women.

Fire Chief Dave Schmidt said the department tests for new members every two years and plans on doing so sometime in July.

The department has 133 members, Schmidt said, with 40 percent of firefighters eligible to retire if they so choose. The department is predominantly white and male, he said.

With recent retirements and a few firefighters out on permanent disability, Schmidt said the department has hired 12 new firefighters since January 2017. Those hired must complete an EMT basic class available at local community colleges within a year of being hired.

Schmidt said when he became a firefighter in 1989, the education requirement was a high school diploma or GED. Elgin started requiring firefighters to have 60 hours of college credits in 2000.

The college credit requirement was cited by some in the community and the city’s diversity consultant, Denise Barreto, as a possible barrier to attracting a diverse group of applicants, Schmidt said. Some people may have to go to work directly after high school, he said, which would take them out of the talent pool.

“We don’t know how many people we’re not reaching, so we thought, let’s relax the education requirement and see if that helps draw a wider demographic,” Schmidt said.

Elgin gives job candidates preference points for various certifications and military service. Candidates with 60 or more college credit hours will receive points as well.

Elgin Fire Union President Joe Galli said the union, like management, is in favor of measures that can widen the net to create a more diverse department.

“We’d like to bring all those we can to the table to address how to get the best application process moving forward,” Galli said.

Galli said the typical applicant is around 35 years old with job experience. Attracting younger applicants is another factor to consider, Galli said.

“There’s no one-bullet approach. No one thing will create a diverse workforce,” Galli said.

From The Chicago Tribune