EDITOR'S NOTE: This editorial was written by an editorial board member for The Gazette.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- In an effort to recruit minorities, the city's firefighter academy no longer requires applicants to first obtain emergency medical technician training and certification.
"The reason we got rid of that requirement was so we could make efforts to diversify the pool of candidates," said Tony Exum, a retired Fire Department battalion chief and a member of the Colorado Springs Civil Service Commission. "The requirement had a disparate impact on minorities."
Exum told The Gazette's editorial department that the commission's decision was made in 2010 to affect recruits who began training in April of this year and will graduate in July. The commission voted recently to continue suspension of the EMT requirement for the next academy.
"Members of the Civil Service Commission must have a very poor opinion of minorities, so lacking in confidence, that the only way for minority men or women to succeed is to give the minorities something for nothing," argues Rod Bernsen, a Monument resident and retired Los Angeles police sergeant, in an email to The Gazette. Bernsen said the commission has "voted to endanger your life or your loved ones" by lowering standards.
The decision appears racist and dangerous. After all, why must we lower standards to attract a diverse pool of applicants? Anyone who thinks minorities have difficulty passing tests and achieving greatness has never heard of Oprah Winfrey, Barack Obama or Sonia Sotomayor - to name a small and obvious sampling of high-achieving American minorities.
But it's not that simple.
"We never even discussed a concern about the ability of minorities to pass EMT training," Exum said. "The Fire Department is not trying to lower standards in any way."
The EMT requirement has become a socioeconomic barrier, not a racial barrier, because it requires potential applicants to pay about $1,000 for a 160-hour course at Pikes Peak Community College or a hospital. Exum said the Fire Department found that too many good local prospects could not risk or afford the time and capital for a small shot at getting hired. Under the new system, top recruits will be EMT trained and certified by the fire department's academy, if they did not get trained and certified before applying.
All diversity considerations aside -- as this should not be about race -- the new system is doing wonders to attract more good local applicants.
Tommy Smith, the Fire Department's deputy chief of support services, said the last academy class, in 2007, attracted 303 qualified applicants, of whom 13.53 percent were minorities. The current academy attracted a whopping 1,762 applicants, of whom 25.6 percent were minorities. Only 23 applicants will get hired.
Policies enacted for diversity are troubling, as we should not care about the ethnicity of a person who shows up when our homes catch fire. But this decision of the commission, regardless of motive, eliminates a barrier that has deprived our community of all variety of applicants.
This is a military town, where young men and women who have served their country cannot afford to put forth time and tuition for one slim shot at public service while feeding their families. We all benefit by having more applicants applying for these dangerous and important jobs.