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Fire chief announces diversity plan

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Rocky Mount Fire Department has developed a plan to guide recruitment of a more diverse workforce.

The Diversity Recruitment Strategic Plan serves as the foundation that the department will use to grow its philosophy in support of a diverse and inclusive culture, said Fire Chief Mike Varnell.

“This culture will offer all potential and current employees the opportunity to enter the public safety environment with the necessary tools and perspective to succeed in learning their job and advance to positions of greater responsibility within the department,” Varnell stated in the plan's executive summary.

A report on how the department plans to support blacks and other under-represented people desiring advancement within the department is forthcoming, Varnell said.

The recruitment plan focuses on concerns expressed by members of the community that the fire department doesn't have a workforce that reflects the community it serves and doesn't value diversity.

The most vocal community resident has been Nehemiah Smith, who has questioned diversity at the fire department during City Council meetings for the past several months.

Smith addressed the plan at Monday's meeting, calling into question its veracity.

“It looks good, but what good is it?” Smith asked.

The plan points out Rocky Mount has a higher percentage of black firefighters than at the state and national level. Smith said the black population of Rocky Mount, 63 percent, is much higher than the state, 22 percent, and the nation, 13 percent. Since Rocky Mount's black population is much higher than the state and national population, the fire department's 21 percent isn't all that impressive.

The fire department has 144 full-time and eight part-time employees. The current workforce is comprised of 111 white men, 30 black men, six white women, three black women and two Hispanic men.

To increase diversity, the fire department has established relationships with local high schools and colleges, including the Rocky Mount High School Firefighter Certificate Program, the Northern Nash Explorer Club, Nash Community College Emergency Services director and Edgecombe Community College Emergency Services coordinator.

The fire department also is reaching out to potential recruits though community programs like the Boys and Girls Club of the Tar River Region, Williford Elementary School, Down East Partnership for Children and Peacemakers.

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