Why Are 90% of Boston’s New Firefighters White?

Employment, Racial Justice

“In America, we share a dream that lies at the heart of our founding:  that no matter who you are, no matter what you look like…you can make it if you try.”

President Obama’s Proclamation on Black History Month (February 2013)


The Boston Fire Department is one of the City’s least racially diverse agencies. On Black History Month, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and the Boston Society of Vulcans are calling upon the City of Boston to take proactive steps to improve racial and gender diversity and to demonstrate that diversity is, in fact, a top priority for this administration.

“As the Boston Globe reported, since Mayor Walsh took office, 90% of new firefighters have been White. That is not a proportional representation of a City whose immigrant and minority communities are experiencing exponential growth,” said Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of the Lawyers’ Committee.

The Lawyers’ Committee and the Vulcans are outlining a package of solutions that – taken as a whole – can meaningfully improve diversity in the Boston Fire Department, including:

  • extending the residency preference requirement to more than one year;
  • creating a cadet program in the Boston Fire Department;
  • recruiting, hiring, and promoting employees with specific skill sets – such as language fluency – that will enhance the Boston Fire Department’s effectiveness in minority and immigrant communities;
  • involving the Boston Society of Vulcans in the hiring process; and
  • implementing ongoing and comprehensive implicit bias training.

As the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit recently re-affirmed in a discrimination case filed by the Lawyers’ Committee against the Boston Police Department: where public agencies have tools that are available to diversify their workforces, but choose not to use them, this refusal may run afoul of federal anti-discrimination law.

“In the case of the Boston Fire Department, all of the above steps represent less discriminatory alternatives that the City can and should adopt to ensure that communities of color have equal opportunity to become firefighters and to advance within the force,” said Oren Sellstrom, Litigation Director of the Lawyers’ Committee.

“The Vulcans have represented and served the residents of Boston for nearly 50 years. Actively involving us in all levels of the hiring and recruiting process from inception will ensure equity and provide the City invaluable insight into the robust communities of color that are being excluded from the BFD,” said Darrell Higginbottom of the Boston Society of Vulcans.

“We hope that the City will demonstrate that it prioritizes racial, cultural, linguistic, and gender diversity in public agencies,” said Sophia Hall, Staff Attorney at the Lawyers’ Committee.

The Lawyers’ Committee and the Vulcans are requesting a meeting with Mayor Walsh and the Fire Commissioner to address these diversity concerns.

The letter appears below. This advocacy work was featured in the Boston Globe, Bay State Banner, Boston Herald, BNN News, WFXT, and “The Take with Sue O’Connell” on NECN.

Lack of Diversity in Boston Fire Department Ltr Final