By Ed Runyan
Warren officials seem to agree that it’s important for the Warren Fire Department to employ its first female firefighter someday.
They also agree that the city should recruit blacks to work in the fire department because none has been hired since 1992, and that local residents should be encouraged to apply for openings because few have in the past couple of years.
But finding ways to accomplish these goals has been far from clear.
At the Warren Civil Service Commission meeting in July, Orneil Heller, an assis- tant fire chief, discussed a report with the commission that he and other members of the Minority Recruitment Committee wrote to address the issue.
Heller took away from the meeting that he was being directed to do one thing: work out a plan with Fire Chief Ken Nussle to schedule firefighter presentations in Warren-area schools to encourage students to consider careers in the fire service.
"I think they are most interested in local recruitment,” Heller said, adding that none of the sessions has been scheduled.
The nine-member committee’s report, released in June, strongly recommended that the fire department become a member of the National Firefighter Diversity Recruitment Council, which would allow the fire department to advertise its job openings to minorities and women from a wide area.
But Heller said he’s not being directed to do that because of the focus on hiring local residents instead of people from outside the area.
The Rev. Frank Hearns, a member of the civil service commission, did not attend the July meeting and has not talked with Heller since the meeting about the next steps to take, Heller said.
No additional discussions are planned at any future civil service commission meetings.
The Rev. Mr. Hearns has advocated taking bold steps to encourage females to get hired, such as creating jobs in the department that would not require them to pass a test of physical agility and strength or modifying the physical agility test to better suit a woman.
Heller said he believes the way the city gives its physical agility test now — through Cuyahoga Community College — is an improvement over having it administered by Warren firefighters because CCC follows national standards.
Until recently, Warren firefighters administered the test, which left people to wonder if females were being discouraged from passing the test, Heller said.
Heller said he believes recruitment in the schools will accomplish many goals at once.
“Since we’ll be addressing all areas of the schools, hopefully we will be able to attract all segments of the population,” he said.
As for creating nonfirefighting jobs, such as fire inspector, to encourage women to be hired, Heller said that would require negotiations with the firefighters union and is unlikely.
“We’re having enough trouble keeping the positions we have, so I wouldn’t think we’d create new ones,” he said.
Mayor Doug Franklin said he thinks the city needs to be “as inclusive as possible” and supports “all initiatives that support that goal. I know we’re a stronger city when we’re diverse.”
He pointed out that there is one secretary position in the fire department that has no physical requirements, “but when you talk about safety, you have to be careful to have professional standards that meet the requirements.”
The fire department has hired numerous firefighters in the past 21/2 years with money from a federal Homeland Security grant and required paramedic training for each new hire.
Nussle said he required that in hopes that the city would restart its ambulance service to keep grant-funded positions after the grant runs out, but the paramedic requirement has made it more difficult to attract minorities.
Since the fire department is still receiving a Homeland Security grant and is applying for another one in the coming weeks, the paramedic requirement is going to remain, Nussle said.
Franklin added that he thinks the paramedic requirement may help attract females to the fire department because so many area paramedics are female.
The fire department plans to give a test in the coming months for entry-level firefighters because the department needs about three more firefighters, and its most recent list is nearly used up.