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My Rebuttal to Mary Rose Roberts on Diversity in the Fire Service

(http://firechief.com/video/merit-vsdiversity-20120314/? cid=nl_cp&YM_MID=1298621&YM_RID=chgold151@gm ail.com)

In a recent Fire Chief video (http://firechief.com/video/merit-vs-diversity20120314/? cid=nl_cp&YM_MID=1298621&YM_RID=chgold151@gmail. com) Mary Rose Roberts addressed responses to her latest article Turn Up the Heat (http://firechief.com/leadership/ar/creatingfire-service-diversity-201202/index.html) on increasing diversity in the Fire Service. Unfortunately, this address doesn't really deal with the core issue here - DOES diversity trump merit as a primary concern? I and many others, for instance, believe merit clearly trumps "diversity for diversity's sake." Ms. Roberts seems unable to even stake out the position that "diversity should trump merit," perhaps because it may be very difficult for her to articulate exactly why. In NYC, as for example, there are numerous agencies that are much more racially imbalanced than is the FDNY. While the FDNY's uniformed force is appx 90% white (appx 2.6X

their #s in NYC's population), the NYC Corrections Dept is over 65% non-Latino black (appx 2.9X their numbers in NYC's population)...and yet "diversity crusaders HAVEN'T appeared to take much issue with that even more glaring imbalance...YET. Mr. Richard Levys remarks in a recent interview (http://k004.kiwi6.com/hotlink/6412v367oa/fdny_pod cast_0001.wma) seem to indicate that as an attorney he is VERY MUCH interested in addressing precisely such disparities, AND Merit Matters disagrees! We feel people gravitate to the jobs they have an interest and aptitude for and that such disparities are merely snapshots in time, subject to change given a whole range of social, cultural and economic factors, at any given time. Considering that non-Latino blacks comprise just 23% of NYCs population and 36% of its Municipal workforce, and that until 2007s exam were historically LESS than 10% of the applicants for the FDNY, there currently appears to be a lack of interest in the Fire Service among that group. That appears to be merely a matter of personal choice, that is subject to change at any time. That same group is also currently woefully UNDER-represented among Americas Volunteer Fire Departments and they are also significantly under-represented among organ donors, as well. IF actual diversity was the goal here, then those who espouse it would be fighting every bit as vehemently to make sure that agencies that

are overwhelmingly non-Latino black would be properly diversified as well, and theyre not. Fact is, non-Latino blacks are the most overrepresented group in both the NYC Municipal workforce (the ONLY ethnicity over-represented by more than 10% of their numbers in NYCs population) AND they are greatly overrepresented in the federal workforce, as well. Im sure we all consider as a given that Free people are NOT equal, theyre not equal in interests, nor in aptitudes. People SHOULD BE able to choose for themselves which jobs and in which fields theyd like to work in. AND if diversity crusaders were truly serious about their mission, theyd have begun their crusade by looking to address the OVER-representation of the group that is most OVER-represented in government employment non-Latino blacks. The fact that they havent speaks volumes about the real focus of their mission.

Turn Up the Heat


Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 By Mary Rose Roberts (maryrose.roberts@penton.com) http://firechief.com/leadership/ar/creatingfire-service-diversity-201202/index.html

Considering that four out of five firefighters in the U.S. are white males, it seems clear that diversity remains an enormous challenge for the fire service. It's time to move this important issue off the back burner.
When Don Horton joined the Richmond (Va.) Fire Department in 1980, the agency was implementing a federally mandated diversity-driven recruitment process. Nevertheless, when Horton hit the ground, he met people who were unhappy about minority hires. It wasnt easy at the time, he said. You had to align yourself with people and stay focused. Not much has changed over the ensuing three decades. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics 2010 jobs report indicated that there are about 301,000 firefighters nationwide. Of these, 9.6% are Hispanic, 6.4% are African-American, 0.5% are Asian and 3.6% are women. That means that approximately 80% of U.S. firefighters are white

males and that diversity still needs to be addressed in the fire service. Clearly, minorities have a small representation in the fire service. Regarding women, the 2008 Report Card on Women in Firefighting based on 2000 census data, and the only recent report on the topic found that firefighting was in the lowest 11% of all occupations in terms of female employees. The same report found that among the 291 metropolitan areas at the time, 51.2% had no paid female firefighters. Yet diversity is an absolute necessity for any public or private organization trying to be competitive in todays multicultural world, said Jona Olsson, the founder and director of Cultural Bridges to Justice, a national training consortium. Olsson also is fire chief of the Latir Volunteer Fire Department in Questa, N.M. Olsson believes an increase in equality and diversity can be beneficial to a company or organizations profitability and is a crucial tool for sustained market success in a society with diverse ethnicities, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomics, religions and generations. Corporate America has learned over the years that having a diverse work force increases their bottom line, Olsson said. The fire service has a different bottom line thats our mission and I firmly believe diversifying our work force will strengthen our bottom line.

U.S. communities once were monocultural, but that largely is no longer the case, Olsson said. At the same time, fire departments original mission of fighting fires has morphed into an all-hazards response, which means more interaction with the public. Today, we are responding to more calls that interact with the public, whether it is an EMS call or a car crash, or prevention and safety education, she said. These calls [require] more interpersonal skills and cultural competence. Departments need to reflect the diversity of society to best serve constituents and provide high-quality service, Olsson said. They also need to end the culture of intimidation that often develops when diverse personnel are added to a work force. The fire service is not alone in this regard. Indeed, harassing someone who may be seen as a threat because of their background simply is a microcosm of the broader society, Olsson said. If any group in society is not seen as valuable or capable, they are not going to be welcomed into the monoculture that exists, she said. Olsson has a strong belief that firefighters cant perform at their best when they constantly are second-guessed, doubted, tokenized or harassed because of their uniqueness.

Unfortunately thats the experience of many women, people of color and firefighters that are lesbian, gay or transsexual, she said. Every day, they show up for work and [being unwelcomed] does not serve them and does not serve our fire service. Chiefs must ensure every member can perform at their best and be successful. That means we have to do our best to dismantle any barriers to full participation, Olsson said.

A Chiefs Responsibility
Recruitment of diverse, qualified candidates should be a top priority for fire chiefs, said Pat Morrison, assistant to the general president for education and training at the International Association of Fire Fighters. In fact, Morrison said that theres something wrong if fire departments fail to represent the communities they serve. The people in your community want to see the fire department match the community they are serving, Morrison said. A diverse fire department that represents the community they are working in is the most effective fire department you can have. Part of the problem is the misconception that the fire service isnt women-friendly. Also,

women often are unaware about how their skills can be applied. Some dont know that this job exists, and it can exist for them, Morrison said. The physical requirements of the job are another concern for women, specifically the candidate physical ability test or CPAT. The IAFF was active in the development of the test, Morrison said. To help women pass, many departments offer fitness training, coaching and mentoring by seasoned female firefighters. We have seen it in many jurisdictions that if you do it right, you can be very successful getting people to pass the test, he said. In the past, physical standards may have been lowered for women to ensure that they would pass muster. Morrison said that such practices actually were unfair to women because it left the impression with men in the fire service that the bar was lowered to pass women. Now with CPAT, when women pass it, no one can say this person cant physically do the job, he said. Its not why we did it, but now everyone has an even playing ground so when they do show up, every person in that firehouse knows that this person had to go through that test. Theres no question they have the ability to do the job or were given the job just because of their gender.

Retention is another issue. Once women are hired, firehouse accommodations and a lack of promotions can discourage them from making the fire service a lifelong career. All sorts of factors, from sleeping accommodations to whether turnout boots that properly fit women are available, must be considered, Morrison said. Departments also should consider what should occur in the event that a female firefighter decides to start a family. Do they look at ways they can accommodate people going through the childbearing time period? Most of these women dont want to leave [the department], but are forced to make a decision, Morrison said. The recruitment of other minorities also should be a priority, Morrison added. To reach out to different groups, recruiters should turn to the local high schools and faith-based organizations, in addition to placing ads in local newspapers. Morrison said that chiefs should develop high-school programs and firefighting camps to reach out to young people. They also should ask church leaders to speak on the issue during sermons. Finally, they should tap into the diversity of the military, which has people of different genders, races, sexual orientations and religions who possess skills that would be applicable to the fire service. Its not just a one-stop approach, it is a la carte, he said. You have to find out what your community makeup is and figure out where you need to go to recruit qualified candidates.

Across the board, we are trying to do a better job at community-based hiring and working with the taxpayers to make sure all of them have a fair shot at the job. When it comes to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community, the fire service needs to ensure they feel welcomed and accepted. I think that is an area where we still have some challenges, Morrison said. It should be the approach of senior staff to ensure there is zero tolerance [of discrimination] in the fire department. People have to feel they can be accepted for who they are and not be unaccepted because they have a label placed on them. Morrison believes that the IAFF has taken the lead on diversity and would like to see more chiefs and the rank and file focus on it. Labor would say this is a management issue, because they are the ones that hire, he said. But why are we focused on it more than them? Specifically, Morrison said that if diversity isnt addressed correctly, it may cause dissention within the work force. Fire-service managers must ensure that they are providing a comprehensive recruitment process to ensure that the right firefighters are hired, regardless of whether they are a minority, but who have the right mindset.

Why hire someone who already has a bias? he asked. Its difficult to weed it out during the hiring process, but everyone has to know when they are hired that, at the fire department, there is zero tolerance for bias.

Treating the Soil


Watching firefighters tackle a fire at the Loews Grand Theater outside the Atlanta law office where she was working in 1978 was a defining moment for Rosemary Roberts Cloud, for it piqued her interest in the fire service. Two years later, after a public-radio campaign to recruit minorities for the Atlanta Fire Department, she would find herself giving up law school and instead enrolling in the fire academy. I had never met a firefighter, never paid attention, Cloud said. It was strictly remembering what they were doing at that fire and thinking I was up for the challenge. Indeed, it was a new world to Cloud. After inquiring at the local fire department about the academys dress code, she was told to wear work clothes. She showed up in a pantsuit, high-heel shoes and her purse when everyone else was in sweats. After a brief introduction, the instructor informed them they would be going to the field.

So I went to one lieutenant and said, Where can I put my purse? she said. And the look on his face I knew I had made a mistake. The lieutenant openly teased her in front of the class. Everyone laughed including Cloud. She said that she didnt feel any backlash for being a black women and one of only two women in her training group at the academy. In fact, recruits generally were supportive of each other and her. You learn when you get into the academy you only have a job if you get through the training, she said. So we had that commonality. Cloud had trouble staying with the group when jogging. She was placed up front and the male trainees had her by the arms helping her through. The instructor said, Turn her loose, shes not on a date, she said. Indeed, the instructors would call the women to demonstrate a task so that they would have to do it twice. They told me they did it to make it clear to all the men out here that we could do our jobs, twice, she said, noting those instructors were some of the greatest mentors and friends shes made in the fire service.

However, when Cloud was assigned to her first station, she realized that while Atlanta had picked new flowers they hadnt treated the soil to make sure they could flourish, she said. When she first reported to her Atlanta station, firefighters didnt know how to interact with her or what they should call her. You call me Cloud, she told them. On her shift specifically, the firehouse was separated, with black on one side, whites on the other. It was very segregated, she said. Cloud also was targeted by a lieutenant who wouldnt give her time on the engine to gain a special permit needed to be an engineer. It went on for months, she said. Finally, he was off one day and a captain came over and signed the special permit, she said. Thats how I was able to drive. Over most of her early career, she filed many grievances and complaints against people who abused her. At one incident, a male firefighter pushed her onto mattress that was on fire, something she could never prove, Cloud said. Though filing grievances deterred poor behavior, Cloud said that she would do things a bit differently if she could.

If I could do it over again, been shooting at every moving But definitely, I would have because that was the only way

I wouldnt have target, she said. been shooting to get change.

Cloud climbed the ranks at the Atlanta Fire Department, eventually becoming an operations chief overseeing the citys airport. Cloud had 180 firefighters and four stations in her command, and a good budget. Despite this, in 2002 she accepted a job as chief of the East Point Fire Department, where she has been able to treat the soil. While there was some backlash because she was brought in from the outside, Cloud focused on training as her first priority, in order to help others explain the importance of diversity. They focused not only on race and gender, but also on sexual orientation and the so-called generation gap. Cloud hired experts who discussed personality types, sexual harassment and hostile work environments. In addition, she brought in attorneys to explain litigation and liability. She also made sure diversity was better documented. We need to stop being afraid to discuss these things, Cloud said. Cloud believes that the fire service needs to continue to treat the soil, specifically when it

comes to recruiting and retaining female firefighters. To make it work, procedures, preferences and requirements to qualify for firefighting work needs to be revisited specifically the CPAT. Cloud also believes that the tests time limit is arbitrary and should be eliminated. If someone demonstrates that they can get through it, then they can do the job, she said.

Recruiting the Neighbors


A fire chief who lived across the street and openly recruited neighborhood kids led Horton to join Richmonds department as a 19-year-old. Thus began my career in the fire department, because that chief took that opportunity to speak to us, he said. At the time, the department lacked diverse representation in its leadership. This made it difficult for some minorities to see a future in the fire service. At that time, there werent that many AfricanAmerican or Hispanic officers, so there were few mentors to groom [people of color], Horton said. The race issue didnt go away, even after years on the job, Horton said. As a captain, I had a captain relieving me who, when I left in the morning, would turn over the

mattress, he said. He didnt want to sleep on the same side of the mattress as I did. However, Horton didnt let the bias affect his view on white males at the department. I tried to look beyond those incidents of racism and to not attribute them to a particular race, he said. I turned it into something positive, and I was better for it. In Richmond, Horton rose through the ranks to deputy fire chief. He retired in 2007 and took a fire chief job in Pine Bluff, Ark. In 2009, he moved to the Portsmouth (Va.) Fire and Rescue Emergency Services Department, becoming its first African-American fire chief. The Department of Justice had put into place a consent decree prior to Hortons hiring that required the department to incorporate cultural diversity and sensitivity training. But Horton said that diversity would have been a focus with or without the decree. His first order of business was to invite a local university expert to come to the department and discuss diversity. You have to talk about the elephant in the room, he said. As part of the training, Horton asked staff to identify their values, in order to build a value-centered organization. The staff responded by naming teamwork, honesty, integrity, honor and respect.

I then shared what I valued, he said. By sharing, we demonstrated that we may be different in culture or color but in values we are the same. Next, Horton began to promote women in the department, assigning the first female publicinformation officer and hiring the first female administrative manager. I wanted the female firefighters to see females in leadership roles, while at the same time filling a position with a skilled and qualified person, he said. Horton next reached out to the staff, asking what other diversity issues needed to be addressed. For example, a firehouse without a womens bathroom meant female firefighters had to wait after a run to use a bathroom until it was clear of male firefighters. They also had to wear male-designed turnout gear and yearned for proper fitting gear, such as turnout boots. The chief renovated the fire station to include new bathrooms and armed female firefighters with proper-fitting gear. Hortons efforts led to the department winning a relatively new award in 2011: the Tony Pini Award for Diversity & Inclusion in the Fire Service. The award was named in honor of Fire Chief Tony Pini, who was a lifelong advocate for

diversity. The award honors fire departments that are working to build and nourish a diverse, inclusive culture. The award helped firefighters in the department realize the importance of their diversity work. When you are recognized nationally and from the outside it brings credence to the work you do, Horton said. Having a diverse fire department that represents the community also has helped reduce the areas fire deaths, Horton said. The department just celebrated zero fire deaths for the first time in six years and a 12% reduction in fires. You know why? Because we have an organization that will go out to that diverse community, knock on doors, go to organizations and work with the community, he said. We are willing to say we are here for you, regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation. While the soil has been treated at the fire department, it also has to be turned over every now and then, Horton said. People get complacent, he said. We need to continue to work at bringing everyone to the table. In fact, diversity and inclusion are what America is all about or at least should be, Horton said.

If we are going to be a great county, city and fire department, then we are going to have to welcome all, enlighten all, educate all and have values so we can be the best we can be.