Angel Rosario is living his dream as a Lancaster city firefighter.
“It’s something I wanted to do for a very long time, and I was finally able to fulfill all the requirements and be sworn in,” said Rosario, who was hired in January 2020.
A first generation firefighter, Rosario, 30, said he is most grateful for the opportunity to learn on the job from colleagues beyond the standard training at the fire academy.
“I love the brotherhood that we share when we are here or on the field,” said the department’s most recent hire. “We are essentially a family away from home.”
For the Lancaster City Bureau of Fire, Rosario represents an ongoing effort to increase the number of minorities in the department. Rosario and 14 other minority firefighters currently make up 22% of the 68-member bureau, a change since 2007, when nine minority firefighters made up 10% of the 88-member force.
When Scott Little was named bureau chief in 2018, Lancaster city Mayor Danene Sorace said going forward, the way the bureau recruits, trains and promotes would be critical in achieving excellence and ensuring it reflects the diversity of its community.
Of Lancaster city’s 59,265 residents, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 38% identified as Hispanic or Latino and 17% as Black or African American.
Of the bureau’s 15 minorities, eight are Hispanic, six are Black and one is American Indian. That’s one more than in 2017, when 18% of the then 74-member bureau included seven Hispanic and seven Black firefighters.
At the time, then bureau Chief Timothy Gregg was in the midst of an effort to increase the number of minorities in the department. When he was named chief in 2007, the bureau included six Black and three Hispanic firefighters.
“Fire is thought of as a white, male profession,” Gregg told LNP | LancasterOnline in May 2017. “We want to hire the best people we can but also hire for diversity, reflecting the community.”
Little said when it comes to hiring women and minorities Lancaster has fared better than other fire departments in the region including Harrisburg Bureau of Fire, Reading Fire Department and City of York Fire Department.
“We actually are ahead within the region,” he said.
Contacted by LNP | LancasterOnline, Harrisburg Bureau of Fire said it had 87 full-time uniformed personnel including one woman, Reading Fire Department said it had more than 122 uniformed personnel including one woman and four minorities, and City of York Fire Department said it had 65 full-time uniformed personnel. Harrisburg and York did not provide details on the ethnicity of its employees.
“Under Mayor Sorace we have worked diligently to identify community-driven feedback that has held us to focus on critical-core functions like ensuring equal opportunity throughout the hiring process, while identifying highly qualified applicants that will excel at becoming successful firefighters and increase the demographic diversity of the bureau,” said Little.
Lancaster City Bureau of Fire hired six firefighters who graduated from the HACC Fire Academy in May 2020, which allowed the bureau to make 15 on-duty firefighters available to respond to emergency calls around the clock.
A three-year contract between Lancaster city and the firefighters union that took effect Jan. 1, 2018, stipulated that at least 14 firefighters be on duty at all times. (A new three-year contract went into effect Jan. 1.)
“There were times within the past decade where Lancaster city only had eight firefighters on duty at any given time,” said Little, who added the bureau responded to more than 3,600 calls for service in 2020.
‘Serve my own community’
The bureau’s next hiring cycle will begin in April.
Little said his department’s recruiting strategies will include partnering and collaborating with civic organizations to attract prospective firefighters.
Additional outreach efforts will combine various approaches to appeal to men, women and minorities, including a social media blast, the city’s website, word of mouth and firefighters visiting locations throughout the city.
“We will also conduct town halls to answer questions about the Lancaster city bureau,” Little said.
The starting salary for firefighters is $51,000.
Applicants must be U.S. citizens, at least 18 years of age at the time of appointment to a firefighter position, and have a high school diploma or the equivalent, a valid driver’s license and background check. They must successfully complete a pre-employment process of testing and evaluations before being hired and trained.
Recent hire Rosario said a firefighter’s work can be challenging.
“But I’ve learned that there is this group of men and women at the ready to help me in regards to firefighting operations,” he said.
Fellow firefighter Tony Ruiz said he didn’t know what to expect when he joined the bureau in 2018.
“I didn’t know what the job entailed, but I wanted to be out of my comfort zone and accepted this new challenge,” said Ruiz, who said he’s in his 40s. “It has helped me grow and be a well-rounded person. It is a tremendous opportunity to serve my own community.”