Ames Fire Department Changing Standards to Encourage Diversity

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AMES, Iowa -- Being a firefighter is a demanding career, and candidates are tested to make sure they are physically able to meet those demands. But those tests are changing in Ames in order to diversify the department.

Fires don’t know names, social status or race. But for the people tasked with putting them out, the Ames Fire Department says it needs to prioritize diversity.

“We don’t represent the community equally. Can we ever get to the point? I don’t know, but were going to try and that’s what we are trying to do,” said Ames Fire Chief Shawn Bayouth.

The department isn't filling a quota or taking recommendations from the state. Bayouth said it's a choice he's making for his department.

“Historically, the firefighter service as whole is a field that white males are attracted to for whatever reason,” he said.

Within the Ames 55 Personnel Fire Department, only one of them is black, two are Hispanic and three are women, including Karen Tapper.

Tapper started at the department nearly 17 years ago. She’s still breaking barriers as the first female shift commander.

“You do feel like you have to keep proving yourself. I have keep showing everyone that I can do this,” Tapper said.

The test she had to pass to become a firefighter is difficult, and dozens of others failed.

The failure rate was so high, the department is scaling back to a standard fitness test hoping it brings in and keeps more recruits.

“You’re not climbing up and down ladders, or dragging dead weight or pulling hose until you’re on the job. And we have trained you how to do that,” Bayouth said.

Fire-related training and agility tests will take place after recruits advance to the next level. Tapper said giving a chance for different types of people to succeed is beneficial for the entire community.

“We all have our areas that were better at communicating with and diverse cultures. If you can find everybody that can cover every culture and society, then we are going to be better rounded,” Tapper said.

Testing isn't the only difficult part about recruiting. Bayouth said it’s really hard to recruit minorities because of cultural differences. And for women, they aren't a fan of the long hours spent away from family.

If you are interested in becoming a firefighter with the Ames department, you can find out more information here.