Posted in the Vallejo Forum
Vallejo's relatively diverse fire department is not the norm
A photo published by the Times-Herald on June 1 of 10 newly hired Vallejo firefighters sparked a spirited Internet debate over diversity in the fire department.
The photo shows 10 men, all who appear to be white, standing in line in their firefighting gear.
MIxed in with congratulatory comments about the photo posted on the newspaper's two Facebook pages, were many raising pointed questions about the new firefighters' apparent racial and ethnic homogeneity, and if the department was trying to reflect the city's diversity.
"Unfortunately the picture doesn't tell everything about a person," Vallejo Fire Chief Paige Meyer said when asked to comment on the issue.
"Seven of them are of minority background, and three were born and raised in Vallejo," Meyer said. "Almost 50 percent of my hires have some sort of diverse minority background."
For decades, hiring a diverse force has been a challenge for fire departments across the country, including in Vallejo.
Vallejo's first non-white, African American firefighter wasn't hired until 1964, and its first woman not until 1985.
The current numbers, however, show a significant change from those earlier numbers.
Meyer said 36 of the city's 76 firefighters are from ethnic minority backgrounds, equal to more than 47 percent -- 40 are white, 12 are black, 10 are Asian or Pacific Islander, one is Native Alaskan or Native American and 13 are Hispanic.
The number does not include the department's two women firefighters.
"Our department is the most diverse in Solano County," Meyer said.
In comparison to the second most demographically diverse Solano County city, Fairfield, Vallejo's fire department is, in fact, far more diverse (see break out box).
"Our numbers are lower than the demographics of the community," Fairfield Fire Chief Vince Webster acknowledged. "But I'm thankful and proud of the pool that we have."
Like Meyer, Webster said he has the same concerns about diversity but is continuing to develop ways to increase it, through programs and community partnerships.
The issue of racial and ethnic diversity in fire departments is not unique to the Vallejo/Fairfield area. It is a challenge nationwide, experts say.
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