Hispanics are 8% of Philly's firefighters
In a dialogue with AL DÍA News, the Philadelphia Fire Department leader spoke about the presence of Latinos in the organization and the importance of strengthening community relations to prevent emergencies.
While wearing his uniform, Adam K. Thiel is a man of implacable seriousness, his face reflects the discipline that governs him and the Fire Department of Philadelphia, which has been decisive in a “24/7/365” job of preventing tragedies and saving thousands of lives.
However, while telling his story, he lets us see a supportive man who became a firefighter by a twist of fate. "I wanted to be a Marine Corps officer, but one day, back to college after lunch, I went through a fire station where they were recruiting volunteers who wanted to become EMTs." The memory of his father's death, made him think that learning those skills would be useful for his life.
It's been 25 years since commissioner Thiel - an "outsider", as he calls himself - first boarded a fire truck. “I was hooked”, he says.
Thiel arrived 10 months ago to lead a professional group that exceeds 2,500 members. In an exclusive interview with AL DÍA News, the head of city's firefighters spoke about the participation of the Hispanic community in a decisive force to safeguard the lives of thousands of people.
It actually was a very warm welcome. Certainly there were a lot of questions. I am the first outsider firefighter commissioner, I’m the 25th in the city, I am the first one that comes from outside the Philadelphia Fire Department, so I think it is very reasonable before I came on board, which is when those stories were published, folks didn’t know me. There used to knowing who the commissioner is, because that person has typically come up through the ranks; so I think they were reasonable concerns. But frankly, since the day I landed and started working, everybody has been gracious, very welcoming. You know, certainly there is a lot of work to do, we have a lot of opportunities, fantastic firefighters, but like in any organization, we have challenges. I think that the real opportunity for us is to keep working together with our local union, Club Valiants, SAPFA… That’s really the important thing to me, to bring everyone together, and we’ve been doing that since day one. So far so good.
The good news is that we have 215 firefighters and medics who identify themselves as Hispanic, Latino or Latina, and that number continues to grow. That’s about little more than 8 percent of our entire work force. We hire firefighters every two years and we just had a list compiled to start a hiring process and that’s a job done by our officer in Human Resources, Pedro Rodríguez, who is the new director there. I’m hopeful that we can continue to build out that segment of our work force, because it is so important to be connected to the community by not just Spanish -there is more than 140 different languages spoken here in the city- so we need to be able to have that (capacity). We’ve always had access to services, but it’s better when you have that community connection right away. We really do hope that folks like me, who never considered the fire and emergency services career, think about it and join us.
I’ve only been here 10 months, I can not speak about the history of that. I think it is related with the promotional processes are really revolved around at least in first and foremost seniorities. Even if we have improved that number from 125 to 215, that’s sure really help to correct that imbalance.
We actually have the vast majority of our job positions are actually governed under civil service, with the exception of ten positions, they all are civil service positions. That's more than 2,500 positions that are governed by rules that we don't administer.
We're constantly talking with with our office of human resources and the commission about how we can continue to do that.
One of the things you'll see over the next few months is a renewed focus for us on professional development, which is training, education, experiences and self development, because we want to make sure we provide all those opportunities for all of our members.
We’re always recruiting. One of the thing we talk about with director Rodríguez is getting to a continuous application and hiring process, because the challenge for us is that if we recruit somebody they [city’s Office of Human Resources) put it in a job-interest card and there is 18 months until we actually have the test and start the hiring process.
It is in the DNA of the Fire Department of Philadelphia. The fire department started in the US here in Philadelphia in 1736 as volunteer companies organized in their neighborhoods, and that's still the way it is done in a lot of the United States. But here, of course, we are a career professional service. Our Fire Houses do all kind of community services efforts. Our firefighters and medics, firehouse by firehouse, are very connected and all 63 fire stations that we have are located in and are part of our communities.
One of the things you see is that our fire houses doors are open. We also do fire prevention activities as we go to schools, to community events, hand out smoke alarms, that's very important for us as well.
We actually have fires across the city and unfortunately of we have had fires all through out the city. The causes that we see, even nationally, are related with careless smoking, heating appliances, electrical incidents have been a leading cause for us, cooking and heating, specially during the winter months. Is the kind of thing we really need folks to be careful with wires, extension cords, power strips. The best case scenario is one plug one outlet, fill up the two outlets and you're done. It's hard to believe that something small as an extension cord or a power strip can start a fire but they do.