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Justice Department Investigates Austin Fire Dept. Hiring Practices

Flickr/C. Young Photography

The Austin Fire Department’s hiring practices are being investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice. In a letter to the city, the DOJ says the fire department may be discriminating against Hispanics and African Americans. The letter does not say what prompted the investigation.

A statement from Assistant City Manager Mike McDonald says the fire department is committed to equal opportunity and diversity. 

"While we are disappointed by the allegation in the Justice Department notice, the City welcomes an objective, independent review by an agency with responsibility for enforcement of some of the nation's core employment discrimination laws," McDonald said. 

AFD Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr sent a memo to staff this week saying she views the investigation as an "opportunity."

"We look forward to the opportunity for us to highlight the improvements we have made to our process through the years," she wrote.

AFD's 2012 Year End Review says its recruiting department launched an "all‐out blitz attack" to recruit African-Americans, Hispanics and females. Almost 60 percent of 4,800 applicants came from at least one of those groups, the report said, although it did not indicate how many of those applicants were hired in 2012. 

According to demographic informationprovided by the Austin Fire Department, 79 percent of Austin Fire Department employees are white. Ninety-four percent are male.  African-Americans make up five percent of AFD. Hispanics account for 15 percent of the staff. 

Citywide, African Americans make up eight percent of the population and Hispanics account for 35 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau

Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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