Veteran firefighter Terri Reid has ambitions to reach the highest levels of the Baltimore County Fire Department. She took a significant step toward that goal March 11 when she was recognized for her promotion to lieutenant.
At a ceremony at Goucher College’s Kraushaar Auditorium in Towson, Reid, who has been on the department for 11 years, received her promotion to EMS lieutenant—only the second time a Black woman has risen to the position since the department started in 1882.
“My ultimate goal is to continue to climb up the ladder in Baltimore County and to make a difference, to have people come behind me,” Reid told the AFRO after the ceremony. “I don’t want to be the second African-American female firefighter alone. I’d like for other minorities…[to] promote into our department.”
Lt. James Artis, who founded the Guardian Knights—a Black firefighters group within the Baltimore County Fire Department in 1994—and has been with the department since 1990, feels that significant progress has been made on the recruitment side. However, more needs to be done to increase the numbers of officers of color, he said.
Currently, the department has four Black fire captains, 10 fire lieutenants, and three EMS lieutenants among 264 officers. There are currently 996 sworn fire department personnel, 185 of whom are minority personnel. According to Fire Chief John Hohman, the vast majority of these 185 are African-Americans, as Hispanics and Asians only make up 2% and 1% of the force respectively.
“I think the recruitment efforts and things have changed," Artis said. “We still have a lot of work to do as far as promotions. We’re starting to move in the right direction, and, fortunately for us, the administration is listening.”
For Artis, the ultimate goal is a fire department as diverse in all ranks as the population it serves.
“That would put everybody on an equal playing field,” he said. “ When I say that, I don’t want it to be as if we are asking for the rules to change. I think if we were given an opportunity, back when, to have come into the department, we would probably be in better positions than we are right now. So again, it’s a work in progress.”
Insuring that minorities are fairly represented is the responsibility of Fire Chief John Hohman, who determines the BCFD’s minority recruitment policies. When Hohman began working for the fire department 37 years ago, there were only two African-Americans and no women on a force of about 500.
Hohman said the department receives approximately 4,000 applications for each recruiting class and focuses on minorities in an effort to improve the department’s diversity. The department generally accepts 20-40 recruits in each class, officials said.
“We’re still not where we want to be, and we’re going to continue to do better,” Hohman said, adding that he works with the Guardian Knights to find suitable candidates.
“We depend on them a lot,” he said. “And we depend on other minority members of our department. . . . I tell all of our [personnel that] people are only going to want to work here if you go out and tell them that this is a good place to work.”
On her own initiative, Reid, who oversees seven EMS units and responds to calls requiring advanced life support, developed an outreach program to help prepare minority firefighters for the officer’s exam. The group meets monthly to go over standard operating procedures.
“Our next officer’s exam will be in December of 2014,” Reid said. “So we’ve reached out to anyone…but mostly minorities are the ones that are coming forward, and we’re working with them to get them in top shape to be ready for the lieutenant’s exam.