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LAC Stentorians - Flame.gif (20 KB) "KEEP THE FIRE BURNING FOR JUSTICE"

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Why does it matter? [Read article] Diversity goals are set and stated in the Austin Fire Department's business and strategic plans. Making progress toward the stated diversity benchmarks in AFD has not shown productive results in over 30 years. After the consent decree in 1977 there were 52 African American Firefighters, today in October of 2011 there are only 47. This sends a message to the citizens of Austin that diversity is not important or a goals of AFD. The negative image affects how AFD members are viewed as well in the community it serves. Diversity matters in the civilian sector.

What is diversity?
What do we mean when we speak of diversity? Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) Compliance Office offers one definition:

"Diversity refers to human qualities that are different from our own and those of groups to which we belong; but that are manifested in other individuals and groups. Dimensions of diversity include but are not limited to: age, ethnicity, gender, physical abilities/qualities, race, sexual orientation, educational background, geographic location, income, marital status, military experience, parental status, religious beliefs, work experience, and job classification."

Diversity as a concept focuses on a broader set of qualities than race and gender. In the context of the workplace, valuing diversity means creating a workplace that respects and includes differences, recognizing the unique contributions that individuals with many types of differences can make, and creating a work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees.

Diversity is also about having the long term goal that the city public safety departments should generally reflect the population of the city it serves in all its dimensions.

Diversity is broader than affirmative action and is voluntary (i.e., it is not "strictly necessary" to incorporate diversity concepts in order to meet federal requirements). Emphasizing diversity moves a department beyond considerations of only race and gender in its efforts to achieve an inclusive work environment.

While affirmative action and equal employment opportunity focus on employment practices, the concept of diversity extends to the work environment, including individual attitudes and behaviors. Yet diversity is related to affirmative action and equal employment opportunity, as there is a direct relationship between individual attitudes and behaviors, and employment practices. Diversity workshops can help managers learn a variety of options to enhance diversity, and to understand how to consistently apply fair employment practices and procedures.

Actions that promote diversity for a department are those that lead to a work environment that maximizes the potential of all employees while acknowledging their unique contributions and differences.

Why is diversity important?

When a building goes up in flames, rational people don't care about the race of the firefighters who drag them to safety. Competence is all that matters. That said, it doesn't mean race should be ignored. Nor should an emphasis on competence be an excuse for failing to take reasonable steps to increase the number of minority firefighters.

While a raging fire knows no color, the taxpayers and residents of a city do. They ought to believe that they and people who look like them are a part of the tapestry of the city. Including them in public service as firefighters in numbers that reflect the changing face of the community advances that reasonable goal.

Educating officers and firefighters on how to work effectively in a diverse environment helps a department prevent discrimination and promote inclusiveness. There is evidence that managing a diverse work force well can contribute to increased productivity. It can enhance the organization's responsiveness to an increasingly diverse world of customers, improve relations with the surrounding community, increase the organization's ability to cope with change, and expand the creativity of the organization.

Good management of a diverse work force can increase productivity and enhance a department's ability to maneuver in an increasingly complex and diverse environment.

Diversity and Demographics

Population (as of April 1, 2000)

City of Austin


Ethnicity (as of April 1, 2000)














 Gender (as of April 1, 2000)



This means AFD should have (uniformed):

Population (as of may 2005)

AFD Personnel

Uniform: 1,032
  Civilian:      56




































Source file: http://www.cityofaustin.org/fire/fdfacts.htm

Source file: http://www.ci.austin.tx.us/census/downloads/city_of_austin_profile.pdf


How AFD Ranks








Assistant Chief







Division Chief







Battalion Chief



































All Ranks







As Austin Firefighters Association President Stephen Truesdell notes, roughly 5% of the Austin Fire Department is female – and compared to the national average, approximately 3%, "that's a good number." Still, from looking at this breakdown of gender and ethnicity in the Austin Fire Department, it's obvious that AFD – like departments around the country – has a long way to go before it's as diverse as the community it serves.

Cited from article in The Austin Chronicle dates 16 October 2009



"The best person for the job" is a phrase that is used to ignore and devalue diversity. There is nothing wrong with wanting the best person for a job, but does that mean that we have to ignore diversity and the importance and benefits of it? Does that statement mean that we ignore the goals and wants of the community we serve? Does that mean that we ignore what has been proven to be an asset to our country and any organization that embraces diversity? Does that mean we ignore the city's and our department's diversity goals? The answer is no! It is possible to achieve diversity goals while going for the best person for a job. The Reflect Initiative does just that. It achieves diversity goals while ensuring that high standards are met for our firefighters.


The "Reflect Initiative" is a suggested step in the direction of meeting diversity goals and what was submitted to AFD, Local 975, and city officials to solicit recognition and assistance concerning this issue in March of 2007.


In an effort to reach the diversity goal of AFD and the city the following Reflect Initiative Implementation Plan has been proposed. This proposal is an attempt to keep standards high and not discriminate against any race. To proposal is an attempt to address the effects of despaired impact against groups that have low numbers that apply for employment with AFD.


We are not sure if Local 975's Executive Board has shared this with it's members or has considered supporting the proposal openly, but the IAFF has this to say about working with Affinity groups like AAAFFA:


"Minority organizations within a fire department are the greatest resource in building diversity... An affinity organization or constituency group's goal is to promote and support its members. It is crucial that relationships between affinity organizations and the local be strengthened, both for mutual aid and as a service to members. Affinity members can provide crucial advice when creating and implementing a targeted recruitment program. Essentially, an alliance is created where both parties assist one another towards a common goal."

Cited from - The IAFF Website, Building Relationships with Affinity Organizations


The relationship of diversity, equal employment opportunity, and affirmative action
Although equal employment opportunity, diversity, and affirmative action are all different, they are interrelated. (See a Comparison of Diversity, EEO and AA Chart.) Each is directed toward achieving equal opportunity in the workplace. Diversity and affirmative action each broaden the concept of equal employment opportunity in different ways. Diversity, equal employment opportunity, and affirmative action together will provide a strong foundation for the Austin Fire Department's efforts to achieve a fair and inclusive workplace.

Equal employment opportunity
Equal employment opportunity is the core concept that unifies diversity and affirmative action efforts; that everyone should have equal access to employment opportunities. The City of Austin and the Austin Fire Department is supposed to adhere to state and federal equal employment opportunity laws, which prohibit discrimination based on a variety of characteristics. In addition to race and sex, these characteristics include: color, national origin, religion, physical or mental ability, medical condition (cancer-related), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, status as a covered veteran, and on the basis of citizenship.

Affirmative action
Affirmative action was developed because of the need to take "affirmative action" to begin to reverse historic patterns of employment discrimination against minorities and women.

Federal regulations require the use of race, ethnicity, or sex in limited circumstances, such as when analyzing the work force to identify areas of underutilization of minorities and women, and establishing goals in affirmative action plans on that basis. When goals exist, the City of Austin and the Austin Fire Department should undertake targeted recruitment efforts to ensure that underutilized minorities and women are represented in the applicant pool.

Fairness vs. equal treatment
Many people think that "fairness" means "treating everyone the same." How well does treating everyone the same work for a diverse staff? For example, when employees have limited English language skills or reading proficiency, even though that limit might not impair their ability to do their jobs, transmitting important information through complicated memorandums might not be an effective way of communicating with them. While distributing such memos to all staff is "treating everyone the same," this approach may not communicate essential information to everyone who receives them. It is easy to see how a staff member who missed out on essential information might feel that the communication process was "unfair." A similar effect takes place when Battalion Chiefs disseminated important business information through chiefs notes session with their own personal biased spin on it.

A communication process or technique that takes account of the diverse opinions of various issues among the staff might require extra time  or effort to make certain that everyone understands important information. Such efforts on the part of supervisors and managers should be supported and rewarded as good management practices for working with a diverse staff.

What do we want

We want what the citizens of Austin, the city manager, and our city council want when it comes to diversity and demographic representation of the city in our public service departments, specifically in the Austin Fire Department. We also want the best person for the job in a department that is diverse and reflects the community it serves. This is a problem that has been present for over 30 years with very little action to address it. Reasons for the slow progress are no doubt complex, but it's hard to believe that minorities aren't interested in these jobs or lack the intellect and physical ability to fight fires. The most recent long range attempts will take another 30 years to possibly get our numbers where they need to be. We need to stop the self inflicted wounds we are doing to ourselves in the fire service by ignoring diversity goals.



"The test of courage comes when we are in the minority; the test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority".


- Theologian Ralph W. Sockman

Below are a few news article published in the Austin American Statesman regarding this issue:


Community leaders hold press conference on 30 September 2008 to speak about the lack of diversity in the Austin Fire Department.



Judge rules in favor of Austin firefighter who claims discrimination 
Tuesday, Nov 10, 2009 @06:05pm CST

 A Travis County judge found enough evidence of a hostile work environment against a female Austin firefighter to allow the case to go to trial.

Last year Nona Allen sued the city claiming discrimination on the basis of race and gender.  Allen is the city’s only female African-American firefighters.

Judge Gisela Triana-Doyal ruled Tuesday to allow the case to go forward based on gender but not on race.

When she worked at Fire Station 15, Allen says she wasn’t allowed a chair or desk in her locker room. She had to sit on the floor while the men’s locker room was fully equipped.

Allen says the vending machine was in the men's locker room so she had to ask a male firefighter to get her a snack.

"I can't [describe] how humiliating that is," she said. "I'm a grown woman."

“This is a significant ruling,” Allen’s attorney Will Sutton said. “It recognizes there are problems in AFD in respects to discrimination.”

Assistant City Attorney Chris Edwards said Tuesday she believes this last part of the Allen suit will be dismissed also.

“Three neutral bodies – two judges and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission – denied her claims of discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment based on race.”

The trial is set for Jan. 25.


Austin firefighter files discrimination suit

An Austin firefighter filed a discrimination lawsuit today in state District Court against the City of Austin, claiming that she was denied furniture, including a place to sit, and food in a women’s locker room at a station where she was assigned.

According to the suit, Nona Allen, who is the department’s only African-American female firefighter, moved a desk and chair into the locker room so that she would have a place to study. The locker room had no other furniture.

Allen, who is the only woman assigned to the station, then continued to find the desk and chair removed from the women’s locker room.

The suit said male firefighters already had furniture in their locker room that included benches, cushioned chairs and video game equipment.

“In a nutshell, I would say that it is pathetic that we have to continue to deal with this kind of conduct,” said Derek Howard, who is representing Allen. “Nona repeatedly complained about it… . Management completely failed to do anything about the complaints.”

The suit said that the women’s locker room also had no vending machines, unlike the men’s locker room, and that Allen would repeatedly have to ask male firefighters to buy snacks for her.

Acting Fire Chief Jim Evans declined through a spokeswoman to comment on the pending lawsuit.

Allen has been an Austin firefighter since February 2007.

 KEYE TV Story       Support Nona Financially Here


Incident Details     Official Lawsuit


Women's Locker Room Video                          Station 15                         Men's Locker Room Video


Men's Study Room Photos



The Austin African American Fire Fighters Association and the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters Association supports Nona Allen 100%.


To communicate your feelings to our city manager or Austin Fire Department, please see the addresses below. 

Austin Fire Department
4201 Ed Bluestein Blvd.
Austin, Texas 78721
(800) 832-5264 or (512) 974-0100 

Austin City Manager
Marc A. Ott

E-mail City Manager

Phone: (512) 974-2200
Fax: (512) 974-2833

Physical Address
City Hall

301 W. 2nd, 3rd Floor
Austin, Texas 78701

Mailing Address
P. O. Box 1088
Austin, Texas 78767


Firefighters union seeking too much

Austin firefighters are the highest paid in the state, earning about 20 percent more than their peers in several other big city departments in Texas. The pay and generous benefits reflect the high regard Austin residents have for the men and women who fight fires, perform rescues, deal with hazardous incidents and respond to emergencies on our roads and highways.

The pay, which is way above market rates, also is a result of many years of bargaining between city officials and the Austin Firefighters Association. The bargaining permitted both sides to prosper.

But in bargaining negotiations this year over a new contract, the union is making unreasonable demands that would set the city back financially and in its goal to build a fire department that reflects the diversity of the Austin community.

The union’s callousness about strained finances might well have to do with the fact that most firefighters — six out of 10 — don’t live in Austin. Thus, many might be somewhat detached from the economic realities facing Austin taxpayers because of rising property values and slumping sales tax revenue. Firefighters have proposed increases in wages and pension contributions that would cost city taxpayers $21.5 million over three years.

Although that might not be unreasonable during times of surplus, the city faces a $25.3 million budget shortfall for 2009. Spending for the city’s police, firefighters and EMS departments eats up 65 percent of the $593 million general fund.

That can crowd out other city services, including libraries and parks, road maintenance and social services.

The union also seems ready to renege on past agreements that opened the door for more women and minorities to be firefighters.

Through the bargaining process that began more than a decade ago, firefighters won generous salaries and benefits. In return, the city gained more control over policies for hiring and promoting firefighters rather than the strict civil service approach to hiring and promoting that relied on a written test.

Civil service tests still are key in decisions for hiring and promotions, and job applicants get extra points for military experience. But other criteria have been added. The city can, for example, use an oral interview board, physical ability test, psychological evaluation and drug test, as well as consider a candidate’s foreign language skills and educational background.

In broadening the criteria, Austin officials tried to create a fire department that looks more like the community it serves. The fire department is considerably more diverse than it was in the past, though there is room for improvement in attracting more women, Hispanics, African Americans and Asians. The latter groups make up about 22 percent of the department’s 1,029 firefighters and women make up 5 percent.

The department is facing a significant drain of its minority firefighters who are eligible for retirement, and it should be pushing for greater diversity to replenish those ranks. Stephen Truesdell, president of the Austin Firefighters Association, said the union’s demands are simply a starting point and that his membership supports the city’s goals of diversity.

But Austin residents need more than words from the union. It should honor its past agreements and be mindful of the financial challenges facing Austin taxpayers.


Austin firefighters group wants academy canceled

DATE: March 28, 2007
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)

EDITION: Williamson
SECTION: Metro & State

Leaders of Austin's African American firefighters association have asked city officials to cancel a firefighting academy scheduled to begin in April, because the class will have no black students.

City and fire officials said Tuesday that they are disappointed at the class's lack of diversity but that the academy will go on as planned.

They said the class is necessary to fill more than a dozen vacancies, which are expected to increase as more firefighters retire this year.

"I understand the frustration with recruiting, especially recruiting minorities," Austin Fire Chief J.J. Adame said. "I feel the same sort of frustration. Our goal is to strive for a diverse work force."

The lack of diversity in the upcoming class is the latest struggle in the department's efforts to attract more women and minorities to a department that has for decades been dominated by white men.

Its efforts have met challenges in recent months: Last year, an African American woman attending the department's training academy sued the city after she was fired, claiming discrimination.

And last fall, a recently promoted female firefighter found human excrement smeared on her locker and urine in a shampoo bottle at a Duval Road fire station. Austin police are still investigating that incident.

White firefighters make up 78 percent of the department, and about 6 percent are black, according to statistics.

Bobby Johns, president of the Austin African-American Firefighters Association, said he was disappointed to learn that no blacks will be in the April academy.

"Our belief is that it doesn't go with the direction of diversifying the department," he said. "For us to be the only ones not represented in that class is disheartening."

Adame said the class of 18, who will make up for current vacancies, will have one woman, two Hispanics, an American Indian and an Asian American.

Cadets were chosen from a roster of about 130 applicants last year based on their physical endurance test scores and interviews, among other criteria.

The department hired 85 applicants last year and sent them through an academy that graduated in February. That group included five African Americans, 11 Hispanics, two Asian Americans and three mixed-race applicants.

However, none of the next 18 people on the list was black, Adame said.

He said that he considered canceling the class until the department could create another roster this summer but that it would cause officials to rely on overtime to maintain staffing levels in the meantime.

"It's a hard one," he said. "We are struggling to figure out what we are going to do, but our plan right now is to move forward."

tplohetski@statesman.com; 445-3605
Copyright (c) 2007 Austin American-Statesman

The "Reflect Initiative" is a suggested step in the direction of meeting diversity goals and what was submitted to AFD, Local 975, and city officials to solicit recognition and assistance concerning this issue.


Austin aims for fire cadet diversity
Minority numbers have long failed to reflect the city's demographics

DATE: November 27, 2005
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)


The Austin Fire Department that Ray Hendricks joined in 1979 did not much welcome his black skin. Hired in the wake of a 1977 federal court order that forced the city to increase its minority hiring, Hendricks endured racial slurs and faced frequent isolation as the only African American in his station. Another black firefighter was spat on, he said.

"I spent 23 1/2 years in there, and I spent 23 1/2 years on guard," said Hendricks, who retired in 2003 and is now the pastor at Rehoboth Primitive Baptist Church.

"It changed, but it took some time," he said. "I don't think it was ever solved."

City officials say they hope to change that in the coming years with a renewed effort to get more minorities into the department.

The time is now, Assistant City Manager Rudy Garza said, because "we're probably 60 years behind."

Garza said the numbers for minorities and women in the Fire Department "are just not acceptable."

Minorities make up 22 percent of the sworn personnel in the department but 47 percent of the community.

The three-year contract just negotiated with the Austin Association of Professional Firefighters, set for City Council approval Thursday, gives the city the flexibility it needs to improve minority hiring, he said.

There is also a sense of urgency, because the years of inaction on minority hiring are coming to roost.

Minority hiring plummeted after 1982, the last year of the court order requiring that African Americans and Hispanics each make up 20 percent of the cadet class. During the six years of that federal consent decree, the department hired 75 African Americans, including the sole African American woman now in the department. Since the end of the decree in 1982, 50 African Americans have entered the department.

Hispanics did not fare any better for many years and still are not represented in numbers that reflect the community population. Indeed, Hispanics represent 15 percent of the department but 31 percent of the community.

But Hispanic hiring has seen marked increases in the three classes since 2000. Not so with African Americans, who make up less than 6 percent of the department and 10 percent of Austin. The situation could rapidly get worse, because about half the 57 African Americans in the department will be eligible for retirement next year.

"We have no one coming in but a lot of people leaving," said Lt. Richard Davis, a 13-year veteran of the department and vice president of the Austin African-American Firefighters Association.

"When your numbers get smaller, your voice gets weaker and eventually goes silent," Davis said.

Association President Bobby Johns said his members are looking to Garza, City Manager Toby Futrell and the yet-unnamed new fire chief to right the years of wrongs.

"Now that they have the ball in their court . . . will they do the right thing?" Johns asked.

Garza said the city leadership is wholly committed to improving diversity in the department, and the hiring goal next year is to have the cadet class proportionally reflect the community. Hispanics make up 31 percent of the city, African Americans 10 percent and Asians 5 percent. Caucasians and other races round out the rest of the community.

"Anything less than that would not be fully successful," Garza said.

Improving diversity has also been a major goal in years of contract negotiations with the police union. Thirty percent of the police department personnel are minorities.

The only way to improve diversity in the fire department is to hire a more diverse cadet class. To do so, the city will rely upon a stable of tools it won in the new contract, the first negotiated since voters approved collective bargaining rights for the firefighters in 2004.

Those tools allow the city to deviate from the civil service rules that have dictated the hiring and promotion of firefighters since 1947. Civil service rules, intended to remove politics and favoritism from the process, made a written test the primary method of evaluating a candidate. The new hiring process could put less weight on the written exam and more on an oral examination. The city now has more discretion to determine who moves on to later rounds of testing.

These are high-stakes tests. Competition can be fierce for the limited spots in the cadet class, with more than 2,000 people typically taking the test for fewer than 100 spots in each class. The few who make it through enter a promising career, with an entry-level firefighter making $44,000.

For minority firefighters who have felt that process technicalities have long been used to keep them out of the department, the hiring changes are welcome, but firefighters say they must be used appro- priately.

"If you can't get in the front door, how can you populate the station?" said firefighter Ed Bridges, a former president of the African American firefighters association.

The contract also allows the appointment of up to nine assistant and division chiefs, the two ranks below chief. In practice, though, only two to three appointments will be made during the life of the contract. The city made the appointment authority a key element of its bargaining position because it is a way to increase diversity in the department's leadership.

Union President Mike Martinez, who was the only other minority in Richard Davis' cadet class in 1992, agrees that the department must foster diversity but said appointments are a quick fix rather than the needed institutional change.

"It appears only to be for diversity reasons and not for vision and goals and structural reasons in the department," Martinez said. "It causes a backlash."

Instead, the department needs to combat the perception that firefighting is not a job for minorities and introduce the profession to minorities at a young age. Many firefighters, including Martinez, discovered firefighting through their families. His uncle, Paul Maldonado, retired as an AFD assistant chief and is the Texas state fire marshal.

Martinez suggested creating an academy in one of the Austin high schools that would train potential firefighters in the fundamentals of the profession. Garza said that idea is being considered by school officials.

The academy would tap a natural pool of local applicants and get more minorities to apply and take the test, a strategy likely to translate into higher hiring numbers, he said.

To get more minorities to show up, the department in the past has done outreach in communities with large minority populations, such as Houston, Detroit and South Texas. But for now the short-term plan is to deepen relationships with community leaders in churches, schools and civic groups that serve the minority communities and can guide young people to the profession, Assistant Chief Florencio Soliz said.

The department wants to communicate the message that firefighting is a great job and career, Garza said.

One church leader the department may be reaching out to is Hendricks, who said he would recommend the job with the Austin Fire Department to a young member of his church.

"But I would not send them in there blind," Hendricks said. He would add the message, "You can make it because I did."

kalexander@statesman.com; 445-3618


DATE: October 23, 1999
PUBLICATION: Austin American-Statesman (TX)

SECTION: Editorial

Does fire department reflect city's diversity?

The first African American firefighters in the state were hired by the City of Austin in September 1952. There were three of us. I stayed with the department, advanced to the rank of captain and retired after 30 years. During my tenure, more minorities and women were hired. When I retired, there were 44 African American firefighters -- 43 men and one woman. It is now 1999 and 16 years after I retired, there are just 49 African American men and still only one African American female firefighter. Sadly, that averages to hiring one African American a year since I started in 1952. The participation of African Americans in the fire department is stagnant, if not regressing. According to city figures, African Americans are 5 percent of the 950-member force. Hispanics in the department number 108 or 11 percent; Females are 2 percent of the force at 24 and the 5 Asians in the department are less than 1 percent of the force. Collectively, minorities make up only 20 percent of the AFD force. Does that number present the face of Austin?

W.R. ``RAY'' DAVIS Austin

International Association of Professional Firefighters

Self-inflicted wounds

Meet & Confer / Collective Bargaining

In the 90's firefighters were looking for a certain level of monetary recognition in the city of Austin Fire Department. While looking for raises we feel that we did not look at the big picture. When meet and confer was implemented in the city of Austin we did not know the negative impact it would have on negotiations for diversity in the city. We also feel that while using diversity as a negotiating tool to hold the city hostage is unacceptable, especially when it is not proven that the negotiations will produce the goal of diversity in our city. Our President at the time during negotiations, Bobby Johns, always stated that a report card should be negotiated into the contract which will put the impetus on our Local the negotiating entity for the firefighters in AFD) and also on the city to work together in accomplishing diversity in the city, because once the contract with the city is completed there is nothing done by the local to assure diversity take place. However there are things done to tear apart and grieve every step in the hiring process which they negotiated for. In short we have not accomplished the goals of diversity that our city government, some African American firefighters and other minority groups within the AFD, and a large portion of the Austin community have been waiting for so long. In that respect, we are not a proponent of meet and confer or collective bargaining. Our numbers after 54 years still only equal to approximately five percent of our work force.




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