Recruiting & Retaining Diversity

Larry Sagan interviews six fire service leaders to get their take on what they believe are some important fundamental underpinnings for recruiting and retaining diversity.


Greater diversity in the fire service is an imperative for our institutions, our society and our public safety. By the year 2042, today's "minority" demographics will represent the majority of our population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Hispanic and Asian populations will nearly...


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Dyer is using out-of-the box thinking in Kansas City to recruit more qualified females.

"I helped with the creation of CPAT (Candidate Physical Ability Test)," he says. "IAFF didn't want the test to be stronger than what's required to do the job nor to be used as an obstacle to gender diversity. But using it for selection discourages women. Following the insight of the Black Chief Officers Committee about how the military doesn't use the physical test to get into boot camp, but pass out, we split the academy into pre-cadet and cadet. Our people conducting interviews with candidates are trained not to evaluate or be subjective about someone's fitness so everyone enters the interview equal, whether you weigh 130 or 300 pounds. We say, 'There aren't any questions on the interview about physical ability so don't be down-grading an applicant on your subjective opinion of his or her ability to pass.'

"Candidates are brought into the academy as a pre-cadet and for the first 8 weeks only get didactic training. Every day, they are given physical fitness training time. Those that aren't in shape have eight weeks to prepare for CPAT. I'm always present at CPAT, so I can testify from my own observations. Our training officer can tell me who he thinks will pass, fail, etc. He's never wrong. Once CPAT is given and the recruits pass, then they get bunker clothing and gloves and the real training as a firefighter. This helps our safety and it also helps the women bond with the other classmates -- they've proven they have the physical ability to be a firefighter."

Another out-of-the box thinker, Alberto Olmos, president of the National Association of Hispanic Firefighters (NAHF) and a captain in the San Jose, CA, Fire Department, believes that addressing the community's language needs is one way fire departments can accelerate diversifying.

"We've been tracking the language challenge in San Jose for over 10 years," Olmos says. "We've had selective, bilingual certified hiring going back 25 years to meet the needs of our community. On behalf of NAHF, I submitted a resolution to CFSI (Congressional Fire Services Institute), which they passed unanimously in April to track languages encountered during emergency responses. The resolution is a tool which provides fact-based data that departments can use to support funding in regards to training, staffing, and multilingual fire prevention programs."

Summer camps for young women, run as non-profits by women firefighters, are another example of out-of-the box thinking. Camp Blaze, Camp Summer Heat, Camp Inferno and Camp Fully Involved are in the U.S. and Camp Courage is in Halifax, Canada. These weeklong, hands-on programs introduce girls from 14 to 19 to a career in the fire service.

Navarro proudly supports Camp Summer Heat: "It's terrific seeing firsthand such positive role-modeling. The growth in the girls' skills and confidence and the staff's energy and commitment are inspirational."

In Conclusion

Selflessness, being a team player, integrity, courage (physical and moral), honesty, fitness, caring, compassion, commitment and competence -- all values that fire-EMS hold dear and are exemplified every day. Adding inclusion and diversity widen our perspective, increase our learning, support growth and positive change, and help us to protect lives and property more safely and effectively in our changing world.

As John F. Kennedy said, "Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future."

LARRY SAGEN is the founder and executive director of the research and education non-profit FIRE 20/20. Its mission is to help fire departments connect with their multicultural communities to increase the reach and effectiveness of prevention and recruitment programs. Prior to forming FIRE 20/20, Sagen worked with departments throughout the U.S. and Canada in the areas of entry and promotional testing and teamwork training. He has a master's degree in social work from Washington University in St. Louis. For more information about FIRE 20/20, visit www.fire2020.org or e-mail info@fire2020.org.