The IAFC Human Relations Committee’s (HRC) continuous effort to integrate the IAFC’s Human Dignity Position Statement’s centered approach throughout the organization is steadily increasing. It’s promulgating new ideas within the fire service on how the IAFC can best meet the needs of members and the communities we serve.
The mission of the HRC is to help leaders in the fire and emergency service establish a structure within their organizations that understands, includes and respects diversity and inclusion.
This year, the HRC developed a new strategic direction and presented it to the IAFC board of directors. While more than a dozen issues, challenges and problems were identified by committee members, we decided to address over the next three years the following top four issues.
Diversity and Inclusion in the Fire Service
The immigrant and minority population is steadily rising, triggering community awareness of language barriers, customs, rituals and practices of our new families. If the fire service wants to meet these new needs in a timely manner, integrate everyone into ongoing fire-safety programs and offer job opportunities, it must create and implement a comprehensive diversity program that teaches first responders about customs, rituals, practices and health concerns of these cultures.
Otherwise, the fire service won’t be able to avert controversy arising from an inability to meet community needs and hiring practices.
To address this, an HRC working group will establish a diversity development program that will provide information on the various cultures, customs and practices immigrant families bring with them from their countries of origin. With this information, leaders can create programs that teach established fire prevention and health practices as well as create opportunities for community members to serve as first responders in their communities.
Fire Department Demographics
Another area of concern is the demographics of departments’ coverage areas. Within the United States, the large number of fire departments and a high level of attrition make it difficult to know the demographics of fire service members across the country. As a result, departments and communities speculate about how the local fire service efforts should mirror the community it serves.
The HRC will work with the U.S. Fire Administration, state fire marshals and the National Volunteer Fire Council to identify the true demographics of the fire service. A working group will establish a program to provide information to the IAFC on current demographics so leaders can make informed decisions and create opportunities to improve service within communities.
Professional Development – Sensitivity
Too often, we hear of fire departments facing charges of insensitivity toward department or community members. The lack of training on racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia and inclusion can result in inadequate service delivery and compromise the safety of both community members and first responders.
An HRC working group will develop a program to teach about these issues and the impact they can have on service delivery if fire service personnel are not properly trained. This professional-development program will provide needed information so leaders can make informed decisions when addressing these issues in their departments.
The HRC is promulgating new ideas on how the IAFC can best meet the needs of members and communities. However, unless we can create a fiscal plan to fully support these ambitious efforts, we’ll continue to be limited in our reach and effectiveness. The HRC will foster new working relationships with IAFC officers, staff and affiliates to create a fiscal plan.
The Fiscal Plan Development Program will provide information so the IAFC can make informed decisions on how to fulfill requests for additional monies for HRC programs and initiatives.
Work groups are being formed now to address these four areas, and the HRC welcomes others to join us on these important projects.
Human Dignity Position Statement
These issues and strategies are derived from the foundation of the Human Dignity Position Statement, adopted by the IAFC board of directors in 2013. As leaders of firefighters and emergency responders worldwide, it’s up to us as chiefs, chief officers and those aspiring to become the next generation of leaders to educate ourselves and those around us about these great challenges. We must incorporate policies and best practices to enhance our professionalism and better serve our departments and communities. Please join us.