(Photo: Courtesy Vulcanblazersinc.com)
Fire departments from Canada to New York City have been catching heat for allegations of racial discrimination and Baltimore is the latest city to fan the flames. Baltimore Black Firefighter Association, the Vulcan Blazers, is now calling for a federal investigation into what it calls “systemic discrimination” by the Baltimore Fire Department.
The group is asking Maryland Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin to call in the Justice Department on their behalf, citing their list of grievances and the nearly 40 cases involving the fire department that are pending before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“I do not see any corrective tools being utilized by [city officials] and I feel that the Justice Department has the role of finding out if indeed there are discriminatory practices in Baltimore City and if they do they will make the recommendations to correct them,” Henry C. Burris, president of the Vulcan Blazers told BET.com.
Burris says that Black recruits are held to a higher standard than white recruits and receive harsher punishments when they can’t live up to them. He also accused the department of promoting Blacks less frequently and lamented that the overall number of Black firefighters remains dismal.
Burris’s claims are backed by other members of the Vulcan Blazers, but the department’s inability to recruit women and minorities is something that has caught the attention of the city’s leaders and advocacy groups.
Earlier this year Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Black, the National Urban League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People joined together in a campaign to boost the fire department’s minority recruitment efforts.
"The fire department has stated that they are working on these issues and the Baltimore NAACP is committed to working with Black firefighters and the city to create a workplace free of discrimination, bigotry and racism," said Tessa Hill-Aston, the chapter president according to the Sun.
However, Burris says the problem began long before it garnered public attention and it will continue to persist unless more serious action is taken.
The total population of Baltimore is nearly 67 percent Black, but out of an estimated 1,800 firefighters, Burris says that Black firefighters only number around 300.
"The low percentage of African-Americans in the fire department, I believe, is done deliberately," Burris told the Sun. "It's systemic and institutionalized. There's the desire to exclude minorities."
However, Burris’s push for equality in the fire department seems to be part of a wave of activism that was spurred by the actions of Black firefighters from the New York Fire Department.
Earlier this month, New York’s Black and minority firefighters won a huge victory as a federal court ruled that the NYFD wasn’t doing enough to recruit minorities to its force. The judge ordered a court-appointed monitor to oversee recruitment efforts and ensure that more minority candidates are hired to the department.