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    Nation Looks to San Francisco Fire Department for Diversity Guidance

    Earlier this year the U.S. Department of Labor selected the San Francisco Fire Department to be one of five sites profiled in the USDOL’s study identifying promising practices to increase diversity among first responders. SFFD has been sharing its strategies and experiences for recruiting, training, and retaining a diverse workforce.

    “This recognition is a testament to the Fire Department’s work to recruit and retain one of the most diverse fire departments in our country,” Mayor Ed Lee said. San Francisco Human Resources Director Micki Callahan added, “We’ve modernized the way we test entry-level firefighters and now conduct those exams continuously. This means candidates can take the test on their schedule, opening the door to people with families, or other commitments that might prevent them from coming to a test given on our schedule. This change has positively impacted the diversity and the quality of our candidate pool.”

    The justifiable high fiving does not mean the matter of diversity is a done deal, however. In recent years, SFFD has made an effort to increase the number of LGBT members in its ranks. Sometimes this has been at our community’s own urging. For example, two years ago, the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club met with SFFD leadership to draw attention to improving the Department’s numbers as they pertain to our community. Keith Baraka, who is an out gay black veteran of the SFFD, shared via Alice: “It is our belief that the SFFD and the residents of San Francisco deserve a Fire Department made of members that reflect the make-up of the city. This means we need a Department that is made up of members that are at the very least commensurate with our diverse population. This is woefully not the case … .”

    Issues pertaining to women and to racial disparities are also of concern. Regarding the former, just a few weeks ago, Chief Joanne Hayes-White announced that she is considering a plan that would require all firefighters to undergo training to prevent sexual harassment. This was in response to allegations brought forth by a female firefighter who alleged that male co-workers verbally abused her, and even urinated on her bed as part of that bullying.

    The San Francisco Black Firefighters Association points to just some of the racial disparity problems. “Our concern and issues include: hiring, promotions, discrimination, racism, affirmative action, training, and education,” the organization states on its website ( “Since our inception, the SFBFA has been able to bring about a tremendous change within the San Francisco Fire Department. One aspect of our struggle was to challenge the city and county of San Francisco, specifically the San Francisco Fire department to create a non-hostile and non-threatening work environment.” SFBFA indicates improvements have been made, but that more work is still needed.

    If you are qualified and interested in becoming an entry-level firefighter, you can be a part of the solution. SFFD has an open enrollment now for an Entry-Level Firefighter. Even if the position would not be a good match for you, please consider sharing the information with someone else who could help to further improve SFFD’s diversity. Given the USDOL’s study, such efforts would go beyond San Francisco to influence positive changes at fire departments nationwide. Please see the “Job Opportunities” section at: FINAL.small_Page_15_Image_0007 10.13.16 FINAL.small_Page_15_Image_0002 10.13.16 FINAL.small_Page_15_Image_0003 10.13.16 FINAL.small_Page_15_Image_0004 10.13.16 FINAL.small_Page_15_Image_0005 10.13.16 FINAL.small_Page_15_Image_0006