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Rockdale officials spar over predominately white fire department

firemen

Rockdale County has hired 16 firefighters and sparked a public outcry because none of the new recruits are black.

 

Fire Chief Dan Morgan said while there are no blacks among the new firefighters, the group has one woman and one man who identifies as Hispanic. 

“We had three African Americans who made the final cut, but did not make it through the whole hiring process for whatever reason,” said Morgan, adding that all recruits must pass a psychological profile, GBI polygraph, physical agility test, written test and panel interviews.

 

Of the three blacks who made the final rounds, one didn’t pass the polygraph, another didn’t pass the psychological test, and the third decided to take a higher paying job, Morgan said.  

 

With the new recruits, Rockdale’s Fire Department has about 146 fire personnel, 8 or 9 of whom are black and two who are Hispanic, Morgan said. The department has three female firefighters, he said.

 

On Common Ground News fielded several complaints this week about the new hires.

Rockdale Commissioner Oz Nesbitt is furious over the numbers, saying the county’s inaction is  “absolutely embarrassing.” He said when he was elected in 2009, there were only five blacks in the department then and officials agreed to work to greatly improve the numbers. Blacks comprise nearly half of Rockdale’s population of 90,000, Nesbitt said.  

 

“I find it absolutely embarrassing that as much as we talk about being fair and equitable, and the fact that we are one of 13 metro counties, that we could not find one African American anywhere to serve as a firefighter in Rockdale County,” said Nesbitt. “Even more disturbing is that we could not find one right here in Rockdale. I put the responsibility for this on the CEO of the county since he is in charge of the day-to-day operations.”

 

CEO Richard Oden said the county’s Human Resources and Fire departments worked on the hiring project together. He said he is confident that they worked to get the best people for the jobs.

 

“You can’t make African Americans apply to be a firefighter and you can’t waive criteria for them to pass the tests,” Oden said. “We can’t discriminate and give people jobs who don’t pass the tests. We lost one of the candidates because he took a higher-paying job.      

 

Nesbitt said he questions how the jobs were posted and where.

 

“From what I’m hearing in the community, a lot of folks didn’t even know we were hiring firefighters,” said Nesbitt. “I’m not sure we made every effort to advertise those positions metro wide. ”

 

Morgan said, however, the department made a concerted effort to advertise through various periodicals and fire journals. He said the hiring process began last September and ran through mid December.

The new recruits, Morgan said, are a few weeks from completing their training. Their graduation exercises are scheduled April 19

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