When Samuel Johnson, Jr. joined the Baltimore City Fire Department as spokesman in 2015, he vowed that he would help reduce barriers to recruitment and attract more city residents and minorities to serve.
“More opportunity” was a refrain that Johnson heard again and again after the 2015 death of Freddie Gray while in police custody and the protests and unrest that followed. Johnson, the son of a fire captain and a lifelong city resident, said he is a “living testament” to the positive impact the fire service had not only on his father’s life, but his as well.
As a co-chairman of the department’s recruitment committee, he helped run an application cycle that was more like a campaign: He positioned personnel in all 48 city neighborhoods to hold “now hiring” signs at intersections, knock on doors, visit colleges and take out media spots.
In addition, applicants with limited computer access were invited to fire stations to complete the online application.
“We believe that by increasing the number of city residents that we have on our workforce, we will be able to do our part in helping to grow the economic base of the city by providing residents with a great career and a chance to make a difference in the community,” Johnson said.
The result was 2,425 applicants from the city of Baltimore representing six different ethnic groups and more women applicants. Overall applications surged up 201%, with 142% more city residents and 207% more minorities.
“We believe we have rewritten the playbook for how the fire department will go about recruitment for years to come,” Johnson said.