Durham Fire Department hiring to increase diversity in the workforce

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- Minorities make up less than 25 percent of the Durham Fire Department and are now being very intentional about hiring women and people of color who may have never considered a career in firefighting.

Firefighters Andre Knight and Teekie Majors, both black, are reminded each time they respond to an emergency that they are pursuing their calling.

"It was always a dream to be a firefighter," Knight said, whose been with Durham Fire for eight years. "I had no idea how fun and fulfilling this job would be."

Majors joined the department three years ago.

"We love our job. I think it's the greatest job in the world, to be honest with you," Majors said. "Just being someone that the public can look to and say hey I can trust this person."

Although fire does not care what color you are, Knight and Majors both agree that there is not much color diversity within the Durham Fire Department.

"We have a lot of direct contact with the public," said Knight. "Currently our fire department does not match the diversity of the city."

Right now, Black and Hispanic firefighters make only 18 percent of the team while women make up only 6 percent of the department.

In 1958, the Durham Fire Service welcomed its first black firefighter, George "Buck" King. In 1985, Hattie B. Mitchell became the first woman to join the department.

WATCH: Interview with Durham's first black firefighter, Chief George "Buck" King
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In 1958, the Durham Fire Service welcomed its first black firefighter, George "Buck" King. (Courtesy of the Durham Fire Department)

"A totally cool thing would be to have a truck with all women staffed," said Captain Carol Reardon, 31-year-veteran with Durham Fire.

Reardon recalls when she first started both men and women slept in the same room and shared the same gear.

"It was a real men's club," Reardon said. "And now women are more accepted now. We have separate sleeping, we have facilities, we have gear that actually fits. We have a great maternity leave policy."

But when Reardon, and her colleague Battalion Chief Tina Hamlin, are out in the community they say some women treat them like unicorns.

"I still have women say, 'I can do that job?'" Reardon stated. "We do the same job. We fight fire, we actually go into the houses, and we run EMS calls and treat patients."

Hamlin is a 22-year veteran with Durham Fire Service and says she also takes the comments in stride by taking the time to educate others and let them know there are female firefighters.

For Hamlin, being a firefighter met her needs of doing physical work that was also challenging.

"This is the best thing that could have happened to me," said Hamlin.

Durham Fire Department is looking for qualified people of all backgrounds to apply and be considered to fill 19 entry-level firefighter and EMT positions. This month, the department is accepting online applications and hosting recruitment fairs each Sunday. The deadline to apply is March 31.

The starting annual salary is between $34,000 to $36,000, with a 5 percent annual increase and other health and savings benefits.

Firefighters also want to ease applicant's fears about fighting fires.

"It's really important for me to express that to other women that you can do this job," Reardon said. "It's physically demanding. It is challenging. But you can do it. And it's well, well worth it."

For those interested, the department encourages people to visit their local fire stations to learn more about the field.

In just two days of posting the positions, the fire department says it has already received 94 applications.
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