Since July 1, when the department was notified by the New Jersey Civil Service Commission that the state-run exam for firefighter would be held in the fall, the department has used a number of initiatives to notify as many groups, organizations, and individuals as possible, according to Fire Chief Gregory Rogers.
“We’re out every day handing out flyers. We’re reaching out in every possible way you can imagine.” – Chief Gregory Rogers
Mayor James Davis, Business Administrator Joseph DeMarco, and Rogers thought this testing was an opportunity to bring more diversity – ethnic, racial or economic – to the city’s firefighting force.
“I know the numbers are not large enough in our department, and we’re trying to get the word out,” Rogers said.
Rogers said there is no other impetus for the city’s campaign. He’s not aware of any lawsuits against the city regarding diversity.
Business Administrator Joseph DeMarco stressed that the city has no obligation to do any promotion, but that Rogers saw the upcoming exam as an opportunity to make additions.
“He’s putting the word out into every neighborhood,” DeMarco said. “What you don’t want to hear is they wanted to be a firefighter and they never heard about the test.
The city has one African-American firefighter, who has been a firefighter for 22 years. He has been the lone African-American for several years.
The department also has a dozen Hispanic firefighters, and signed on its first woman, Cailin Brodel, last year and is hoping to attract more women.
“We’re out every day handing out flyers,” Rogers said. “We’re reaching out in every possible way you can imagine.”
Among those avenues are newspaper ads, columns, and stories, continuous announcements on city TV channels, and a posting on the municipal website. Firefighters have also stopped by train stations, strip malls, churches, organization meetings, Bayonne High School, and two Jersey City colleges where Bayonne residents attend.
The state controls and runs the firefighter exam recruitment drive. This is the first in five years, which complicated matters for the department, since it usually has five or six months to promote a fire exam, but this year had only two months.
“We feel it’s important to reach out to our community,” Rogers said, “and try to make a closer match with the membership of our department and the demographics of our town.”
DeMarco said diversity is not limited to just ethnicity or race.
“It’s also an economic thing, like with someone who can’t afford college,” he said. “It’s cultural diversity, it’s economic diversity. It makes for a better workforce when you have people from different backgrounds.”
Rogers also feels that the greater pool of candidates that can be amassed, the greater the quality of those who will take the test, with ultimately the most qualified people joining his force.
Informing the public
“Give it a shot,” said Bayonne firefighter Ed Ratyniak on Friday, Aug. 21 to Bayonne resident Shadrach Bestman, 21, on the platform of the 22nd Street Light Rail Station. Bestman was very interested, and after taking literature, walked back to further discuss the fire exam with Ratyniak.
Firefighter Dave Sisk was also handing out flyers a couple of feet away. Ratyniak and Sisk are both days away from celebrating eight years with the department.
Ratyniak said he was there to give clear information to residents with questions about becoming firefighters.
“Some have ideas; others have misconceptions,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realize it’s a career opportunity. A lot don’t realize it’s a paid department.”
Ratyniak said that the drive has garnered a lot of positive feedback from residents.
Jersey City attorney Karen DeSoto, a civil rights activist, applauded the Bayonne department’s addition of Brodel and its efforts to attract more women and minorities.
“I hope the diversity continues,” DeSoto said. “They have their first female firefighter, and I think that’s excellent. The community has changed and it’s made up of many diverse people.”
DeSoto said there are other important implications of having diverse public safety departments.
“If you have a large Spanish-speaking population, and that’s not reflected during emergencies, that could result in injuries,” she said.
State-run firefighter test
DeMarco said the application, testing, and placement process is fair and equitable because it is run by the state.
“We are a civil service department. We hire off the list. It’s gender, economic, and race blind. We pick the highest scoring,” he said. “The economic and social makeup of the fire department is the process of the state.”
The starting salary for a Bayonne firefighter is $42,378, plus benefits. Bayonne residents who are 18 to 34 years old are eligible to take the test.
Applications are available on the internet at the New Jersey Civil Service Commission website, state.nj.us/csc. Applicants should file online. The deadline is Aug. 31 of this year.
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.To comment on this story online visit www.hudsonreporter.com.