Letter: Fairness in hiring at fire department

To the Editors:
Wilton recently posted the application for Firefighter/EMT. The requirements include valid Connecticut Firefighter II certificate; EMT Certification; Connecticut Class 2Q (fire apparatus operators endorsement) or CDL-Class B driver’s license; Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT) card; completion of the CT Fire Academy (CFA) Recruit FF Training Program. This process has the laudable goals of avoiding the time and expense of testing, and hiring firefighters ready to work immediately.
This process may have a number of problems. One must be a member of an organized fire department and covered by their liability insurance to take the CFA recruit class and Firefighter II. Additionally, one must have NFPA compliant structural firefighting gear, and a self-contained breathing apparatus with two spare air cylinders. These cost about $10,000. Collectively, the requirements take years to achieve. Entry-level firefighters in many volunteer departments get their training locally, through instructors provided by the regional fire schools, not the CFA. The CFA recruit program is a 14-week resident program which currently costs about $6,000, and requires employment as a full-time firefighter or six months as a volunteer to attend. (http://1.usa.gov/1LAe9ON)
This process functionally excludes Wilton residents, minorities, and women. Is it also likely few veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan can qualify? This position pays over $100K at top step with overtime. The published selection process only makes sense if it is focused on hiring from a narrow pool of applicants, perhaps a pre-selected individual. Does Wilton truly believe in Equal Opportunity? Wilton has had no functional volunteer fire department since 1989. For a Wilton resident to meet these requirements would require membership in a volunteer fire department that is willing to fund attendance at the CFA Recruit class. Most are not, due to the cost and the availability to use regional schools.
Wilton has used a variety of testing processes over the years. Initially, it was an entry-level position, open to everyone over 18 years. More requirements were added as years passed; including the completion of Firefighter I and II, and possession of a valid EMT card. This current process almost guarantees Wilton’s fire department is to remain 100% white male for the foreseeable future. Minority populations, primarily urban, have limited opportunity to serve in volunteer fire departments to receive training. Most of the African-American and Latino members of the Bridgeport Fire Department, where I serve as a Fire Lieutenant, cannot qualify for employment, even after a full career and responding to thousands of fires and emergencies. Bridgeport only began sending recruits to the CFA in 2012. Therefore, minorities have limited ability to meet the published standards. Women probably make up less than 5% of CFA Recruit class graduates, even if they meet the other requirements, functionally excluding most of them from consideration. The position should be open to a wider pool.
Wilton should use a hiring process that does not subtly discriminate against women, veterans, and people of color.
Philip Reeves
115 Chicken Street, March 18