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Walsh one step closer to starting fire cadet program in Boston

Mayor Martin J. Walsh signing the Home Rule Petition, putting the city one step closer to starting a fire cadet program.
Mayor Martin J. Walsh signing the Home Rule Petition, putting the city one step closer to starting a fire cadet program.(The Office of Mayor Martin J. Walsh)

Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed a home rule petition to start a cadet program at the Boston Fire Department, his office announced Friday.

The petition still needs to be approved by the Legislature, but if it goes into effect, it will “provide a stable pipeline of diverse young people for future firefighter classes,” Walsh’s office said in a statement. A home rule petition allows the city to request a new type of power from the Legislature.

“It is essential that our City’s workforce reflects our city’s people,” Walsh said in the statement. “Since taking office, diversifying our departments and public safety agencies has been a top priority.”

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Walsh reinstated the cadet program for the Police Department in 2016, and two classes have “embodied the diversity in our city.” In both classes, more than 60 percent of cadets were people of color and more than 30 percent were women, Walsh’s office said.

“Reviving the Boston Police cadet program has proven to be a successful way to diversify the force by attracting a more diverse pool of candidates,” Walsh said. “I’m proud to now take this proposal to the Legislature and I urge them to approve our first-ever fire cadet program.”

In January, a report by an outside counsel made recommendations to change department culture and to get leaders of the department, including Fire Commissioner Joseph Finn, to increase the number of women, the Globe reported.

Walsh hired the counsel to do the report after several women complained about a “pattern of harassment, sexism, and discrimination in the department,” the Globe reported. One of the allegations that led to the report was that a female firefighter was sexually assaulted by a male co-worker in a Jamaica Plain firehouse.

There are currently 17 women and 416 people of color in BFD out of about 1,500 firefighters, Walsh’s office said. Nationally, less than 4 percent of firefighters are women and 16 percent are people of color, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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The Fire Department’s new 53-person class was officially sworn in last week and is the “most diverse” since 2003, with 20 people of color and one woman — the first Asian-American woman firefighter on the department’s force, Walsh’s office said.

In the past, the department applied twice, most recently in October, for a Selective Certification list to have a target number of women in their recruit classes, Walsh’s office said. Both requests were denied.

The department also has a diversity recruitment officer, Walsh’s office said.

“Making sure Boston’s employment opportunities are available to all and ensuring the workforce that keeps us safe reflects the diversity of the City of Boston requires us to continue these important conversations about the tools we need to make it happen,” said Representative Chynah Tyler, who will file the bill on Walsh’s behalf.

Walsh’s office said that changes have been made in firehouses to improve conditions for women, such as extensive training for respectful workplaces, conducting ongoing meetings with the women firefighters, improving policies for women’s bathrooms and installing exterior combination locks on the outside of them, and creating 7-foot walls between bunks.

Leadership in the department has also undergone 30,000 total hours, or a 300 percent increase compared with four years ago, of “anti-harassment, discrimination and respectful workplace training” in the past year, Walsh’s office said.

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Walsh’s budget for the next fiscal year includes $175,000 for a fire cadet class if the state Legislature approves the home rule petition, his office said.


Breanne Kovatch can be reached at breanne.kovatch@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @breannekovatch.