AUSTIN -- Firefighters are revered as America's heroes. But is the City of Austin giving everyone a fair shot at becoming one?
The City Attorney received a letter Monday from the U. S. Department of Justice (DOJ) that said it's investigating the hiring practices of the fire department because it has information that the city is engaging in practices of discriminating against blacks and Hispanics.
"That came after a series of complaints and we don't know a lot about the complaints and really what lead to this full blown investigation," said Tony Plohetski, an investigative reporter with KVUE's exclusive news partner, Austin-American Statesman. "But most of the time when these types of investigations are opened, it's gone through the EEOC."
According to the city, Austin's population is 47.1 percent white, but the fire department is 79 percent white. Austin's Asian population is 6.4 percent, Austin Fire Department is 1 percent. Blacks account for 7.6 percent of Austin's demographic and 5 percent of its fire department. Hispanic's rank as 36.3 percent of the city's make-up, but 15 percent of the fire department.
To put it into perspective, Austin Fire Department has 990 employees, 783 of them are white, 11 are Asian, 46 are black and 150 are Hispanic.
"I would say that's a problem because it needs to be more diverse," said Austin resident Callan Windgo.
Silver Chisum disagrees.
"You need to have the right people, it doesn't matter what their race is," Chisum said.
Mayor Pro-Tem Sheryl Cole admits Austin is lacking in diversity and hopes the investigation will shed light on what can be improved.
"It could be more of a comprehensive package problem that more African-Americans are not coming to Austin, therefore it's less of them to recruit into the fire department. We just don't know. We just know the numbers are down and we have to do something to address it."
This is not the first time the Department of Justice has looked into AFD's hiring practices. It was investigated in the 1970's as well and most of the minorities that were hired after that investigation are now starting to retire, contributing to the gap in the demographic.
The city and fire department both plan to fully cooperate with the investigation.