Pursuit of ethnic diversity a contributing factor in Baltimore City FF recruit death

FF Recruit Racheal Wilson died on 9 February 2007 in a training exercise which went terribly wrong. National standards were ignored and deviated from, and this Pitting is in no way intended to minimize their role in her unfortunate demise. What I do Pit is the practice of lowering standards when testing, such that the appropriate demographic is represented in a hiring category.

Baltimore City caught hell several years ago for an all-white recruit class. In response, they upped recruiting efforts for minorities and females. Nothing wrong with that, so long as they meet the standard.

The final report on the training incident involving the death of FF Recruit Wilson states on pages 92 and 93:

Here is a person who, despite her best efforts, was not able to meet the standards, yet was allowed to continue until they reached a point at which their inability to perform proved fatal. I don’t want unqualified people on engine, truck, or rescue companies, no matter how warm and fuzzy it makes the statisticians feel that the FD has x% blacks, y% hispanics, and z% females. If you go down because you can’t crawl the hall, now I have to send in two more FFs to drag your sorry ass out, or go in myself. As a firefighter evaluator, I’ve flunked candidates of both genders and all races/ethnic groups. Perform the skill safely and competently, and I’ll pass you. It’s that simple. Those who fail standards are a liability to themselves and others.

Link to report referenced above: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-recruitingreport-htmlstory,0,1081394.htmlstory

If you can’t pass the firefighter test you should not be a firefighter. It is literally life or death.

(I applied for a firefighter position. I did not pass the written test.)

What is sad is that passing unqualified people puts not only them in danger, but puts other firefighters at risk. It is just stupid to pass someone who can’t perform the job in the name of “diversity”.

As well as the general public.

Yep. My fat ass doesn’t get any lighter because you’re a woman (or a slightly built man, for that matter). If your job is to drag said fat ass down three flights of stairs in the blazing heat of a fire, it’s absolutely irrelevant to me whether you have a penis or a vagina or black skin or purple skin. What is important is that you can drag the average fat American ass down three flights of stairs in the blazing heat of a fire.

I don’t even see why this is a debate, frankly.

Is there yet any evidence where the pressure to let her proceed lay?

Is there a policy, (written or unwritten), telling the instructors to pass women who are “close” so that the recruitment numbers stay high?
Does it appear that the training team was passing her along to satisfy pressure from above or to keep up arbitrary pass rates?
Was there any particular officer in the training team who was ordering failures to be ignored?

I am curious whether ignoring her failures was official policy, unofficial “understood” policy, or the practice of a single officer in a key position.

Lowered standards are always bad, but they have to be implemented at some specific level and I’d rather reserve my RO for the appropriate humans.

was she the only recruit who failed a standard?

Here’s one place to look. Scroll down to “April 21, 2004 - Where’s The Fire?” (Sorry, I can’t link directly to an older Baltimore Sun article. You have to pay to search back further than 2 weeks.)
Here’s a recent Sun article. At the bottom of the first page it mentions the revamped hiring process.

Back in 2004, the Baltimore City Fire Academy graduated an all-white class of recruits. Of the very small number of minority applicants who were able to pass the written test, they were later excluded from the hiring process since they either had criminal records or could not pass the mandatory drug testing.
When this all-white class made the newspapers, people went ballistic, and demanded that the written exam be re-vamped so minorities could have a better chance of passing it. They also lowered the standards for the agility testing, and made the hiring process easier.
Since then, the city has made a lot of noise about how ‘ethnically diverse’ their recruit classes are. Nevermind if the recruits are competent, apparently what matters is that they all look good as a group in their graduation photo.

Racheal Wilson, the FF cadet who was killed in the training exercise, was 5’4" and weighed 192 pounds. She took the agility test one time and failed. She took it again several months later, and actually performed worse than she did the first time. Somehow, she was allowed into the newest recruit class. She had also displayed a tendency for removing her facepiece during times of stress. In earlier years, this would have been enough to get you kicked out of class.
There is a guy at my firehouse who is only an auxillary member because he couldn’t pass Firefighter 1. He freaked out in stressful situations and kept taking his facepiece off. They kicked him out. (This is in Baltimore County, not the city)
FF Recruit Wilson was also unable to hold a hose when it was charged, or at the time it is spraying water - kind of an important skill to master, don’t you think?
She was also unable to hoist herself up to climb out a window and down a ladder.

It’s my firm belief that Racheal Wilson was passed along in the initial testing process, and even in class just because of the city’s need for an ethnically diverse class. She had no place being there.

There is proof that the fires set that day in the training exercise got out of hand, and some recruits did not have radios. Also, FF Recruit Wilson had old gear that was worn and did not protect her. It all added up to a terrible tragedy, but she had no business being there in the first place.

The link is to a conservative blog that is anti-affirmative action (the writer mentions Chappaquiddick, the Kennedy Smith rape trial, Soviet adventurism, Monica Lewinsky, and Sept. 11 all in a single sentence in one article - that’s supposedly an obituary). His discussion of the all white class appears to be biased. It briefly mentions that some black people complained about the lack of publicity over the test and acknowledged that most of the applicants heard about the test through word of mouth from firefighters. And then - in what is undoubtedly a coincidence - the small number of non-white applicants who did hear about the test and passed it, all subsequently failed their background checks. But no concerns about the hiring of the best possible firefighters was made at that time. Apparently it can safely be assumed that in a city that is less than 32% white, none of the best possible firefighter trainees are in the non-white population.

What sort of publicity should the city utilize for job openings? They advertise testing dates in the paper, and on the city’s website. Should it be the lead story on the news? Should they put up billboards?

I’m not sure what you’re saying here - they did hire the best possible candidates for that class. They hired the candidates who had clean backgrounds and were able to pass a drug test. The applicants who passed the written test but had misdemeanors (or worse) on their records or were unable or unwilling to pass drug testing are not the best candidates.

No, the best you can say is that they hired the best candidates from among the people who took the test. And if their hiring system is set up so that the majority of the people in the city aren’t aware of the test, then they’re missing a lot of potentially good applicants - some of whom statistically would be better than the ones who were actually hired.

I agree with the OP that you should set standards and hire the best possible people out of the applicant pool. But you should also make sure that your applicant pool is as big as possible.

I have no doubt that Ms. Wilson was passed along to keep the “diversity” quotient high. My explicit question is where the decision to do that sort of “social passing” has occurred.

Is it really at the level of the city administration? The fire department hierarchy? Some numbskull in HR? A specific member of the training team?

I knew a woman who was totally incompetent who was protected by her immediate supervisor for seventeen years. Her supervisor had cowed a succession of her bosses, for years, to leave the incompetent clerk alone. The company had no policy–written, unwritten, “understood,” or whatever–to protect people due to their minority status. The clerk’s supervisor was not particularly “liberal” politically, (quite the opposite). It was “well known” within the department that the clerk was only kept on for racial numbers. Yet, as soon as the supervisor retired, her boss immediately began collecting the documantation to fire the clerk. In that case, it had nothing to do with racial policies and everything to do with one odd supervisor (with a dragon lady reputation) intimidating her superiors for whatever odd reasons of her own. I really doubt that the Wilson situation followed the same path, but offer this example of a case where what “everyone knew” about racial issues had nothing to do with racial policies in the department and everything to do with the quirks of an individual in management.

So, my question remains: at what level is the lowering of standards being promoted? Municipal, fire department, training section, or training supervisor?

That is arguable. If the most common drug test failure (or refusal to take a drug test), was prompted by marijuana use, then I submit that it has nothing to do with job performance and everything to do with the current anti-drug hysteria that has hobbled this country. (No, I do not want someone high on pot at the wheel of a 16,000 lb. engine careering down my street. On the other hand, the majority of the people I have known who used pot recreationally were no more likely to go to work stoned than the recreational drinkers I have known were likely to go to work drunk and I have never heard of a breathalyzer/ignition interlock on a fire engine.)

By advertising on the city website and placing ads in the newspaper, the city has done all they are obligated to do. According to 2000 Census data, blacks make up 64.3% of Baltimore City’s population, so are you suggesting that almost 2/3 of a major metropolitan area’s inhabitants are wholly unaware? It’s not a secret that BCFD tests annually. Furthermore, the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP proudly notes that they are the second oldest chapter in America, and according to their website, meet monthly with the Fire Chief, 12-18 department heads from BCFD and the two unions representing firefighters and fire officers.

You may call it a minor matter of semantics, but there’s a difference, IMO, between ‘getting a job’ and ‘pursuing a career’. When I was seeking a career in law enforcement, I made it my business to find out who was testing and when, what their requirements were, and so forth. All of that was done before the days of the internet. If somebody in Baltimore wants to know the real deal, they could start with a walk over to the local fire station, as I have a feeling they’d know. For years, ARCO has published study guides for a variety of Civil Service positions. If you want to be a firefighter, hie thee to the library and check one out. Review the physical evaluation, and if need be, change/adopt a workout regimen. Personal responsibility. Take it.

A gasp conservative man of color (La Shawn Barber) made these observations regarding a similar situation in Denver, CO a tad over two years ago:

If you can take off the conservative viewpoint filter, you might see what wisdom the man speaks.

I’m rather doubtful that Mayor Dixon is going to make me privy to her interdepartmental emails, or relate the context of phone calls, much less answer your direct query. Any directive, if put in writing, would have the potential of being a tool for use in a reverse discrimination lawsuit, were it to ever be leaked. Besides, she has enough problems with charges that she skirted procurement laws, steered $525K in a no-bid deal to a contracting company owned by her campaign chairman, and hired her sister, violating ethics rules of the City. It would appear that rule bending is not beyond her embrace.

All we know for sure is that FF Recruit Wilson failed the physical agility evaluation on two occasions, and because someone put diversity ahead of common sense and safety, there’s a deceased lady and two orphaned children.

If you want to argue drug laws in the US, I think you know where the ‘new thread’ button is. Right or wrong, you have to have recently arrived here from another planet to not be aware of how the matter is handled. It’s a simple decision: Do you want a position in Civil Service? If yes, then don’t use drugs. If you did, and got caught, then that kinda indicates you aren’t the sharpest knife in the drawer. Drugs or booze, anybody in a municipal employ situation is subject to random testing. I am as a reserve snow plow operator for PennDOT. Any member of my volunteer fire department is subject to random testing, as well, if impairment is suspected.

Dances, conservatives seemed to accept any flaws in the system until those flaws gave an unfair advantage to a black woman. And now they’re saying the system needs a massive reform. Why weren’t conservatives calling for change three years ago when there was evidence that other qualified candidates were being missed?

There is a huge fucking wildfire right now just outside the town I live in. There are tons of firefighters from quite a lot of places out there. I’m sure some are women – the top person in charge of the whole operation is a woman, actually, and I’m sure she’s done her share of up-close-and-personal firefighting, even if she isn’t now. However, as long as they’re qualified, I don’t give a rat’s ass about their gender, race, religion, planet of origin – anything.

The thought of lowering standards for firefighting in the name of diversity (especially concerning women, who often simply do not have the physical strength required, and it’s not sexist to say that) gives me the creeps. Said departments need to figure out ways to attract more qualified applicants, not lower their standards for the ones they have. How is this not totally fucking obvious?

  1. What makes you think that they were not?

  2. It’s never too late to try to fix a mistake.

  3. What difference does it make one way or the other? It’s clearly an issue that needs to be addressed now, so let it be addressed instead of trying to ascribe motives to it. Further, it’s disingenuous to pretend that liberals didn’t see the flaws in the system as well. There’s not a liberal alive that would want their house to burn down in the name of diversity.

I haven’t liked the system for 35 years, thank you. At the start of that time, I was liberal-leaning, but still would have agreed with the ideology expressed my Mr. Barber, had his words been penned, then.

Do you accept my responses to your other allegations regarding inadequacy of informational awareness being rendered to the populus, or are they likewise dismissed because of my political inclination?

And I’m sure there’s not a conservative alive who would want his house burned down in the name of tradition. We all want the best firefighters on the job. But both sides seem to have blind spots where they overlook bad hiring practices. Policies that push qualified black applicants out are as bad as policies that push unqualified black applicants in.

I think we’re all basing our knowledge of this situation on the same limited set of facts. If people have other sources of information they should give us the links. All of the information I have about the 2004 “all white” class came from dancewithcats’ links - and the writer of that blog was defending the status quo not seeking changes. And the call now for reform is apparently only calling for a change in the policies that allowed Racheal Wilson in. (Admittedly there were changes after the 2004 class that did widen the applicant process but the blogger was opposed to these changes.) If this blogger’s opinions were uncharacteristic of the conservative consensus and there was a conservative outcry, I’d be glad to hear about it.


What if the job is to wrestle your fat ass to the ground during a domestic dispute and put cuffs on you? Or chase you down a dark alley and engage in a physical altercation and effect an arrest? Or kick down a door and bring down a kidnapper?
What if it means running 60 yards at full tilt with body armor and 75 pounds of gear on your back to save a wounded soldier? What about engaging in hand to hand combat with [an almost exclusively] male who aims to kill you?
What if it means shoveling asphalt into a hopper as you black top a road; or carry hundreds of pounds of material up a fully extended extension ladder while working as an iron worker? What about working as a hod carrier or roofer?

Does the rationale still apply?

Most of your responses seem to be that I was just dismissing anything said by a conservative. This isn’t true. I listen - when a conservative is making sense I’ll agree with him or her. And when they’re wrong, I’ll say so.

As for the notification that was made back in 2004, I don’t know to what extent it was made except for what I have read here. You say the city did all it was obligated to do. No doubt that’s true - I doubt the city was going to do less than the obligated minimum. But if the outcome wasn’t sufficient, then the city should have acted and gone beyond the obligated minimum required. The issue is supposed to be hiring the most qualified firfighters not fulfilling the minimal civil service obligations.