Schenectady County

Fire chief hopes club will attract new firefighters

The city school district has agreed to allow a public safety club at the high school, something Fire
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The city school district has agreed to allow a public safety club at the high school, something Fire Chief Robert Farstad has requested for three years.

Farstad is trying to improve the diversity in his mostly white fire department, and wanted access to the racially mixed high school population in hopes of developing future firefighters.

He won’t get as much access as he wanted — he proposed letting firefighters teach a series of paramedic and fire-safety classes for college credit, but the school district said adding classes to the schedule of electives would be difficult.

Instead, the district will offer a paramedic or fire safety class in its adult education program, school district spokeswoman Karen Corona said.

The deal won’t completely satisfy Farstad’s goals, but it was deemed a good first step by both school and city officials Friday. The deal was made in a morning meeting among school officials, Farstad and Schenectady City Council members.

“We’re going to work together and try to do something,” Corona said.

Councilwoman Margaret King added, “I thought it went very well. We’re going to get something in the fall.”

More details about the club and the adult education class will be released in July, Corona said.

The turnabout came just three months after Corona said the district had no plans to start any such activities. In March, she said the district wasn’t going to focus on Farstad’s program because it was not an “educational priority.”

“We’re still working toward our goals in the courses we currently have, reading and math,” Corona said.

But on Friday, King said the district simply struggled to find a way to offer the additional activities.

“I don’t think they were uninterested. The logistics kind of got in the way,” King said.

She said she’s hoping the club and the continuing education class have a big impact in a few years.

“Getting more young people interested in careers in public safety, getting more minorities interested — we’ve all recognized that is a problem in the police and fire departments,” she said.

The fire department has been particularly criticized by council members for its lack of diversity. In its 108-year history, it has hired only three blacks. Right now, it employs one black firefighter; three women, including one Hispanic; one Asian; and 112 white men.

By comparison, the city is 77 percent white and 15 percent black, according to the 2000 census.

King is hopeful that high school students will now consider careers in public safety, but warned it will take time to know whether the club is successful.

“We’re talking some years down the road,” she said. “They have to have two years of college. You could potentially be talking six years before we see a result.”

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