New legislation introduced to combat lack of diversity in Pittsburgh's fire department

Currently, the Pittsburgh Fire Bureau is 99 percent male and 90 percent white. Of the 676 people employed by the bureau, six are women, and fewer than 71 identify as an ethnicity other than white.

But city officials are hoping to improve the diversity of its firefighters. Last month, the Pittsburgh Department of Human Resources and Civil Services introduced new legislation with the goal of attracting a more diverse recruiting class to the bureau.

The proposed legislation will allow the department to contract with the National Testing Network to study hiring practices to ensure equal hiring opportunities for all qualified candidates, regardless of race or gender. According to a press release, the contract for the assessment is not meant to exceed $49,875.

If approved, the study process will collect relevant written content, compile data, hold meetings, research other similar cities, and then present the findings with stakeholders.

Janet Manuel, director of the Department of Human Resources and Civil Services and Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the City of Pittsburgh, believes the study will help improve current hiring and recruiting practices.

“The City of Pittsburgh takes pride in its efforts to improve its processes to source applicants that will lead to the hiring of qualified and eligible candidates to fill its openings,” Manuel said in a press release. “Having the Fire Barrier Study conducted could lead to information to help the Department of Human Resources and Civil Service understand what are the obstacles that are hindering applicants from applying and allow us the chance to review, revise and implement process improvements where necessary.”

This July, a Pittsburgh firefighter recently came under criticism after he faced assault charges when he pinned down a Black 13-year-old boy at a playground and yelled expletives at the boy’s teenage sister. The firefighter was placed on administrative leave after the July assault charges.

The Pittsburgh region is also one of the whitest of any large metro area in the U.S. More than 82 percent of Pittsburgh's urban and suburban areas are white, while 9.8 percent of those areas are Black and 8 percent are other races.

This fire bureau is not the only organization in the city lacking diversity. According to their 2018 Statistical Report, the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is 85 percent male and 85 percent white. In 2015, following an ACLU complaint turned lawsuit, the city was ordered to pay $985,000 to Black police academy applicants who were not offered jobs between 2008 and 2014 after investigations turned up evidence of systematic bias.