Savannah Fire chief defends and updates recruiting process - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Savannah Fire chief defends and updates recruiting process

Chief Charles Middleton Chief Charles Middleton

Claims of discrimination in hiring and recruiting within the Savannah Fire and EMS Department sparked a review one year ago of how the city recruits new firefighters.

Thursday morning, Chief Charles Middleton outlined for Savannah City Council improvements in how the department recruits new firefighters. He says there is no discrimination, never was discrimination, and disputes criticisms from community members he called 'uninformed."

The controversy all started in fall of 2011 after the local chapter of National Action Network alleged the fire department did not have enough African American firefighters and the reasons they believed why.

"There are no intelligent African Americans able to pass the test to become a firefighter," Alicia Blakely, National Action Network, told WTOC in October of 2011. "That's an insult."

Chief Middleton, who is African-American, fought back against the criticism from the Blakely, and along with city human resources, presented to council some changes they have made to recruit new firefighters, including a new recruiting team started this year to continually recruit new hires year-round.

The eventual hiring includes classes and the recruit must pass tests and qualifications.

Alderman Tony Thomas said he's all for diversity but he doesn't want these requirements, in his words, "dumbed down" just to get more diverse potential hires. 

"I think it smacks the men and women who are currently serving this city in the face when we talk about manipulating tests and all so we can get more people," Thomas said. 

"I am pleased to hear the council is not in favor of us dumbing anything down," Middleton said. "I'm not in favor of it and it is just not the way to go."

Chief Middleton and city leaders re-iterated the need to hire the very best, whether man or woman, black or white, and all ages and backgrounds.

While many people pass the physical requirements and the national C-PAT tests, or Candidate Physical Agility Tests given twice a year, he says the drug testing and background checks are usually what eliminate candidates.

Typical academy classes run about 130 candidates. The only change to the recruiting process, Middleton told WTOC, is the philosophy and creation of a team to focus on finding quality candidates year round versus random recruitment efforts in the past.

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