Now that a federal judge has approved a settlement between the city of Austin and the U.S. Department of Justice over allegations that the city’s Fire Department hiring practices were discriminatory, the Austin Fire Department can resume hiring of cadets. The move provides a path forward for hiring but doesn’t settle an ongoing dispute between city management and the firefighters union over which entity controls hiring decisions.
Nonetheless, the judge’s decision is good news since the Fire Department needs at least 90 cadets to address its shortage of firefighters. The shortage has not yet reached a critical point that puts public safety at risk. So far, the department has maintained a solid record in dispatching fire trucks and other services to emergencies by using its overtime budget and personnel to cover shortages. But that is a short-term solution to a larger problem that eventually will result in extremely high costs in overtime, overworked firefighters and a drop in the quality of service.