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How to Improve Diversity in Your Fire Department and Why It’s Important

firefighter diversity

Demographic trends indicate that women and minorities are the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. workforce. As of 2012, women accounted for nearly half of the workforce, while minorities made up 36 percent of the workforce. However, this growth is not reflected in the fire service industry.  According to the NFPA, women made up just over 3 percent of firefighters, while minorities made up less than 20 percent. As people of different nationalities, religions, and genders choose the fire service for a career, fire organizational leadership and firefighters themselves must adapt to the changing demographic of the communities they serve.

How Fire Departments Across the US Are Increasing Diversity and Awareness

A recent Fire 20/20 survey highlighted how communities and fire organizations can oftentimes be disconnected from one another.   The study consisted of 726 participants, 20 fire-EMS focus groups and 43 multicultural community focus groups. The findings emphasized the lack of understanding within the multicultural communities about the nature of the services provided by the fire department and those provided by emergency medical services.  One participant was quoted saying they were confused about why a fire truck showed up when they called for medical help.  The change in the lack of basic understanding of services and increased community involvement comes from the top down.  Leadership in the fire services must be willing to start a dialogue with the community and enact a personal approach to the ones they serve.  Some firehouses have enacted an attitude where they are willing to open up their doors, literally. Firefighters in Chicago wanted to diversify their ranks with a new emphasis on community engagement aimed at creating a pipeline of future applicants. Initiatives undertaken like adopt-a-school and fire cadet programs offered young adults and families in Chicago opportunities to interact with fire personnel in non-emergency environments and learn about the jobs of firefighters and emergency medical staff.   Larger cities have also taken a page from Main Street America where the firehouse and their volunteers often serve as a centerpiece of the community.   This type of engagement approach was started in 2015 at firehouses throughout Baltimore, Maryland. The department made itself visible in the city’s communities, hosted open houses, and invited residents to tour the firehouse and speak with firefighters about their concerns.  To aid in recruitment efforts and foster hiring within the community, fire personnel handed out literature at community meetings and conducted presentations at college career days to get the word out about upcoming opportunities. Lastly, Baltimore FD engaged in this type of successful outreach by starting a mentoring program prior to the physical ability testing for both men and women. This was found to increase the success of applicants who struggled in the physical ability aspect of the hiring process without compromising the rigorous PT standard.

Fire Department Diversity Task Forces

Other departments throughout the nation are taking a different approach. In the fall of 2013, Saint Paul, Minnesota Mayor Chris Coleman established the Fire Department Diversity Task Force.  This group was made up of a diverse group of stakeholders and representatives from the communities that the SPFD served. The Mayor partnered with Council members, Fire and Human Resources Senior Management, Firefighter unions and representatives from the Native American, Hispanic, Asian, and African American communities. The Task Force worked to identify areas to improve the diversity and build the inclusiveness in the Saint Paul Fire Department overall.  The Task Force first analyzed each of the steps in the recruitment, selection, and hiring processes and identified barriers that precluded diversity within the process. Utilizing the data, they planned targeted recruitment strategies at community events, public forums, fire station open houses, and high school and college presentations. Lastly, the Task Force advised on the training preparation provided to candidates prior to the testing process to ensure success.

How Diversity Benefits Your Fire Company

Professor David Thomas at Harvard Business School says that the first thing successful companies that benefit from diversity hires is that they eliminate separate programs for diversity.  What they do is integrate diversity into all processes of their organization. Diversity becomes a lens for looking at, identifying, developing, and advancing talent. They don’t only have a minority recruiter, they educate all their recruiters about how to relate to the diversity of the population that they recruit from.  As our communities become more diverse with each generation of new immigrants why not utilize the diverse set of skills that those individuals bring to the table?  By bringing various races, genders, and nationalities into the fire service it to brings in a broader service range, increased adaptability, and a separate set of viewpoints.  These qualities are essential to the set of intangible traits and values that lend themselves to a successful firefighter and a longstanding career within the fire service. Robert Avsec, longstanding Executive Fire Officer, sums this up for leaders succinctly: Good leaders demonstrate genuine care and concern for their people, no matter their rank, race, or gender.

Doing Business with Integrity

Integrity is about doing the right thing even when no one is looking.  At BME, integrity is a part of who we are. Ronald Yanke, BME’s original founder, had a reputation as a kind, humble man whom his employees and neighbors deeply respected. It was said that Yanke went out of his way every day to help others, and that those who knew him would walk through fire for him. Founded on these principles that still resonate with us today, BME strives for honesty and fairness in everything that we do, including our business relationships, our company culture and even our manufacturing process.  For more information regarding our products and custom solutions please contact us by phone at (208) 338-1444.

 

Sources:

Diversity in the Fire Service – Why Does It Matter?” Firehouse, 20 Sept. 2016, www.firehouse.com/article/10494144/diversity-in-the-fire-service-why-does-it-matter.

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2012/07/12/11938/the-state-of-diversity-in-todays-workforce/

Johnson, Sam. “How Fire Departments Could Look Like the Communities They Serve.”Governing Magazine: State and Local Government News for America’s Leaders, 30 Nov. 2017, www.governing.com/gov-institute/voices/col-steps-improve-fire-department-diversity.html.

Thomas, David. “What Do Leaders Need to Understand about Diversity?” Yale Insights, 20 Sept. 2016, insights.som.yale.edu/insights/what-do-leaders-need-to-understand-about-diversity.

Officer, Robert Avsec Executive Fire. “A Healthy Discussion about Diversity in the Fire Service.” Fire & EMS Leader Pro, 27 Dec. 2013, www.fireemsleaderpro.org/2013/12/27/1119/.

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