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Diversity in the Fire Service
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1991

1991

FIRE IN THE HILLS
An Oakland firestorm raged through the hills destroying nearly 3,000 homes and claiming 25 lives. One of the victims was a firefighter.
NEW DECREE SHOT DOWN
In early 1991 the U.S. District Court, The Firefighters Union Local 55, the City of Oakland and various minority groups hammered out a new consent decree. Based on the 1990 census, the groups established a 10-year hiring plan for new recruits. The order required an annual physical agility test for all firefighters. Those who did not pass after several exams would lose their jobs. Local 55 members rejected the proposal for a new consent decree by a vote of 177 to 141. The Oakland Tribune reported that the plan was voted down because firefighter veterans opposed the fitness tests. In August, U.S. District Judge William Orrick ordered the city to use the 1985 decree.

1996

OFD TURNS THE CORNER
From 1991 to 1996, there were no new hires at the OFD. Battered by a series of lawsuits and budget constraints, the department was forced to close its doors to new recruits. But by the mid-1990s, veteran firefighters were retiring. Many of the retirees had served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The OFD was, and would become, a very different department.

In 1996, the call for 50 new firefighters was announced. Nearly five thousand people applied - the largest turnout in the city's history. The new firefighter hopefuls came from throughout the state and from all corners of society. More women and people of color applied than ever before. White-collar professionals, librarians, construction workers and paramedics came to compete for a hero's job.

Nearly two years after the open call, 28 candidates graduated from the first fire academy class: 11 white, 11 black, three Asian and three Latino, with three women among them. In the end, Oakland hired over 100 new recruits.

Californians passed Proposition 209, the ballot initiative that ended affirmative action throughout the state. Similar initiatives begin to appear at the city, state and national level.

2000

McGue Video 5

Bonilla Video 1

Golden Video 8

Robinson Video 1

A NEW CENTURY BRINGS PROGRESS AND HOPE
According to the Oakland Fire Services Agency, the OFD currently employs 491 professional firefighters: 13% are women and 56% are people of color. The ethnic breakdown consists of 40% white; 30% African American; 18-20% Hispanic; 6% Asian and 4% other.

Since Samuel Golden's appointment as chief in 1981, many African Americans have moved up the ranks to become top officers in the department. Now firefighters, regardless of race or ethnicity, spend time together - in and out of the firehouse.

Fitting in to the male-oriented firefighter culture has its challenges, yet women have made and continue to make progress.

Yet, there's always room for growth.

As OFD moves into the new century, Oakland firefighters represent heroes and role models for more people than ever before.




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