Hanging around gangs and other bad crowds while growing up in a bad part of South Seattle, Tien Tran had already been to funerals for friends at a young age. Following the death of a friend in juvenile detention, Tran resolved to change his life.
“I went to my local fire station, Fire Station 30, and told them I don’t want to hurt people, I want to help people,” Tran said. “I know it’s cheesy, but it’s a true story. And they said this is what you can do and that was eight years ago.”
Tran went to school and received both an associate and a bachelor’s degree. After applying to the Seattle Fire Department twice, Tran was hired last year and recently graduated from drill school.
Tran is one of few APIs training to be a firefighter, something the SFD hopes to change in the coming months.
“The Seattle Fire Department highly values diversity in the workforce,” said Seattle Fire Chief Harold Scoggins. “We are working diligently to recruit members of our under-represented communities to apply for a career in firefighting.”
Asians and Pacific Islanders make up 7.6% of Seattle firefighters in 2015, up from 6.4% in 2013. Women make up just 8.9% in 2015, up from 7.6% in 2013.
“Since launching our brand new Seattle Fire Jobs website this spring, we have seen an increase in female applicants and have also seen a rise in applications from the Asian, African American, and Hispanic applicants,” Scroggins said. “One of our main challenges is to break down the barriers that kept members of our diverse community from applying. We have instituted exam workshops run by Seattle Firefighters to tutor individuals for the written exams. We have also created recruitment videos which highlight the challenges applicants have overcome and the benefits of a Seattle Fire Career.”
The retirement of an older generation of firefighters has led to a dramatic drop in minorities employed by SFD, according to Dori Towler, Sr. Personnel Specialist for the SFD. Towler is helping lead the department’s efforts in building the diversity they’re losing through retirement.
“We’re no longer legally able to hire based on race but because we did before we’re seeing lots of retirements of African-American, Asian, and woman firefighters,” Towler said. “Other than women, the API community is the most underrepresented in Seattle.”
The submission period for Entry Level Firefighter is open through September 21, and the SFD is using online and public outreach to recruit new potential trainees from Seattle’s minority communities.
Enrollment for SFD’s Fire Cadet Program is open until August 14 so Seattle citizens can have the chance to consider a career in fire services.
SFD released a series of new recruitment videos featuring firefighters from Seattle’s minority communities to help inform potential recruits about SFD’s commitment to better represent the diversity of Seattle’s citizens in the department’s hiring of firefighters.
One of the videos features Seattle Firefighter Kevin Vu, who never thought he’d be a firefighter growing up and has now been with the department since 1999.
Having firefighters serving in their own communities helps community members better identify with those who come to help in often intense and stressful situations, according to SFD. A lack of diversity will usually lead to departments assigning employees to communities they have little connection with. With an increased API presence, multilingual firefighters are better able to communicate with those in a community.
Activist Frank Irigon said increased representation of the API community is vital to the safety and overall well-being of the community and has been working with the Seattle Police Department in an attempt to solve these problems. He said he believes some of the issues the SPD is working on in the community are ones the SFD should also consider.
“I think [representation] is very much important,” Irigon said. “We’ve been pushing the SPD to recruit, hire, and retain as well as promote APIs and we expect the same from the fire department. It’s the same reason we want diversity in higher learning institutions, because it raises people’s awareness of different race and cultures.”
Tran has advice for APIs who might be interested in becoming firefighters. He said it’s important to step outside your comfort zone, especially if it’s something you feel passionate about doing. Tran said he was often the smallest, shortest, and youngest.
“[My family] didn’t believe me at first, then they saw my change in lifestyle,” Tran said of following his dream to become a firefigher. “I was very troubled as a teenager, but once they saw the change they liked it.”
Tran said that when his family saw all the hard work and dedication he gave to being a firefighter, they changed their views on what he was capable of.
“[Don’t] listen to negatives,” Tran said. “If that’s what you want to do, follow your dreams. Just because you may be the only minority in your group or class you’re representing, you can still make it.”
For more information on how to join the Seattle Fire Department, visit www.seattle.gov/firejobs.