Westinghouse High School to house public safety training academy to train students for careers in Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s next generation of police officers, firefighters and paramedics could come straight out of Westinghouse High School through a program to train students for public safety jobs.
The city — long criticized for lacking minorities and women in its three main public safety bureaus — is teaming with the Pittsburgh Public School District with hopes of boosting diversity with homegrown talent.
“So many times we’ve tried to find recruitment from around this country and have a police force, a fire department and medics that reflect Pittsburgh,” Mayor Bill Peduto said. “Unfortunately, what we forget is we can find it right here in our own neighborhoods.”
Peduto said public safety bureaus, now predominately white and male, should mirror the city’s demographic breakdown of 66 percent white, 26 percent black and nearly 52 percent female.
Ninety percent of firefighters are white males, by comparison, and only about 1 percent are women, according to the Pittsburgh Personnel Department. Paramedics boast the highest number of female employees at about 20 percent. Police officers are about 84 percent white, 13 percent black and 16 percent female.
Tenth-graders from across Pittsburgh Public Schools are eligible to enroll in the three-year Emergency Response Technology program, according to school Superintendent Linda Lane. The program will start next fall and include three periods of instruction and hands-on training each day.
The American Federation of Teachers approved a $300,000 grant to help fund it, and Pittsburgh donated a retired fire engine with an auction value of $1,200. Peduto said public safety personnel would assist in classroom instruction.
Angela Mike, executive director of the district’s Career and Technical Education department, said students could earn college credits and certifications for public safety jobs.
She said instructors would teach them how to operate the firetruck, write police reports and administer first aid, among other things.
“They’ll learn how to prepare for an actual fire,” she said.
Fire Chief Darryl Jones and EMS Director Mark Bocian said public safety bureaus have attempted for years with minor success to recruit minorities and women through ads on radio and television, movie trailers, job fairs and community events.
“Most students don’t even know what firemen do, and it’s the same thing with paramedics,” Bocian said, adding that the EMS Bureau is revamping a diversity recruitment program. “We’re hoping this program will feed into that.”
Peduto said he learned about a similar program in Washington, D.C., through a conversation in early 2014 with Cathy Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department.
“In D.C. they realized in order to have a diverse (police) force all they had to do is look within their own city,” he said. “In Pittsburgh, we’re doing the same thing. We’re creating a public safety training academy here at Westinghouse High School that will give kids an upper hand at becoming police officers, firefighters and medics in Pittsburgh.”
Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].