CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte's fire chief sat down one-on-one with Eyewitness News to talk about his mission to push for diversity.
This comes days after firefighters packed City Hall, standing united against more claims of unfair treatment of minorities.
Chief Pete Key said the department is taking a grassroots approach to recruiting and that wherever he goes, he does his best to bring people into the department.
"I'm at car washes. I'm at Walmart. I'm at Harris Teeters. If I'm in line and a guy, a person, is working, I'm going to start talking about the fire department," Key said.
Recruiting diverse candidates is the city's top priority for the Charlotte Fire Department.
Eyewitness News reported last year on concerns over the lack of diversity within the department and the number of minorities being promoted. When former Chief John Hannan retired, Key stepped up and revived initiatives to boost diversity.
He said the department is spending more money on marketing and advertising at beauty salons, barber shops, and churches. Its sponsored segments on hip-hop radio station Power 98 and sent firefighters to a diversity conference in Virginia to discuss solutions to the recruiting problem departments say is a nationwide problem.
Charlotte is one of the largest departments in the southeast and Key said it's critical that firefighters can connect with every corner of the community.
"It's important that we get into neighborhoods and try to mirror or parallel the demographics of this city," Key said.
Within the department, he's pushing firefighters to be more engaged and to add their voices to different committees.
"I want it to be inclusive from firefighter one to fire chief rank," Key said.
Key said they're already seeing improvement and that roughly 35 percent of the applicants who took the fire test in December were minorities.
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