The percentage of uniformed African-American firefighters in Chicago has declined over the last decade, according to data provide by the city.
In December 2005, the percentage of uniformed African-American’s on the Chicago Fire Department totaled 19.2 percent. At the end of 2015 it stood at 16.9 percent.
“If you look at a longitudinal graph you will see that our numbers are going down,” said Jim Winbush, a former captain and member of the African-American Firefighters and Paramedics League of Chicago.
The group says the city has failed to live up to a long-standing promise in which 30% of firefighters would be African-American.
“The city is still segregated and the fire department is no different in that,” said Gregory Boggs, a lieutenant on the force and the current President of the African-American Firefighters and Paramedics League of Chicago.
“It just seems like the years go on it’s less and less that I see,” said Dolly Cooper a 25-year paramedic veteran.
The Fire Department contract for years, these employees argue, set out hiring goals.
“The contract says that in all ranks we should have fourty-five percent of minorities. Thirty percent should be black, 15 percent should be Hispanic,” Boggs said.
But according to the most recent city figures counting active uniform personnel 64.5 percent where white, 16.9 percent were black, 13.5 percent were Hispanic. The total for black and Hispanic: 30.4 percent.
The Fire Department declined a request for an interview but cited a number of efforts to increase minority enrollment through churches, community organizations and aldermanic offices.
Three new firefighter and at least two paramedic classes are expected this year.
The fault in not meeting the 45 percent threshold these firefighters say lies not just with the City but also the union that represents Chicago firefighters.
“They agreed to this contract,” said Boggs, “and they have never held the city accountable for the 45 percent.”
In a statement Union President Tom Ryan said, “Local 2 has no control over the City’s hiring process.”
According to city figures, 92.3 percent of Chicago firefighters are male and 7.7 percent female.
Thirteen new female hires are now in training, which Dolly Cooper calls minimum progress.
“It took lawsuits and then a separate case with them to get on the department,” she said, adding it is always a fight.
Still, she says she loves her job. “I love taking care of people,” she said. “Even with the struggles that I have endured over the years I still love this job.”
“Oh wow, this is absolutely best job on the planet,” added Jim Winbush.
But a job he and the others say that continues to limit persons of color.
“Our kids should have just as much opportunity of seeing a firefighter that look like them and believing that they can do that and they can accomplish that as the kids that live in Beverly,” Gregory Boggs said.
“We want the most qualified people we want the best of the best. But we also want a fair shake.”