Fire departments nationwide struggle with diversity but there aren’t many places where that problem is more apparent than in the Kern County Fire Department.
Of 521 Kern County firefighters, only one is a woman.
Only four – less than 1% – is African American.
And in Kern, with a majority Hispanic population, only 17 percent of the fire department identifies as Latino.
Department and county officials are planning an aggressive recruiting program aimed at grooming a diverse group of young people, some as young as grade school, to be future firefighters.
But for now, the number of women and people of color is small.
It’s a problem nationwide. The U.S. Department of Labor reports only four percent of firefighters nationwide are women.
In the Kern County Fire Department, that number isn’t close. The county would need to hire about 20 more women firefighters to meet the national average of 4%.
The last recruitment was in 2017 and brought hundreds of applicants. Through public records, we were able to find 462 applicants were men and 10 were women.
None of those women was hired.
The sheriff’s department has better luck in hiring women. About 10 percent of deputies are women, with 40 females in positions from street deputies to lieutenant. The detentions division of KCSO has an even better record.
The KCFD hiring process begins with a written exam. Questions are multiple choice and based on basic skills firefighters should know. Each exam is graded and given a score. The top candidates move on to an interview panel of county officials who create a list of eligible candidates.
After the list is significantly narrowed, the chief begins his process of hiring for the positions
“Ultimately it is his decision on who to appoint,” said Devin Brown, the county’s chief human resources officer. The chief “is constrained by the process. He can’t go out and select a female candidate who may be further down the list. So he does have some limitation.”
We reached out the county fire department several times over the last three weeks for details on the selection process. The department has not found someone for us to talk to about it.