Diversity is a concept that's been in the background of many fire departments throughout the United States, but now it seems to be getting more attention. This year's LMI Conference was a great place to start addressing this issue of diversity.
Utilizing a panel comprised of members from IAFC and IAFF, we offered different perspectives on the meaning of diversity and the positive effects of embracing it. The panel included:
- Chief Mike Burton, Human Relations Committee member, IAFC
- Nick Felton, Elected Human Relations Committee chair, IAFF
- Assistant Chief Thomas Muñoz, Human Relations Committee chair, IAFC
- Lorne West, 6th District vice president and Executive Board Human Relations Committee chair, IAFF
Many of the discussions centered on the difficulty some departments face concerning diversity sensitivity and how the meaning or definition of the word diversity is often misunderstood. It was evident that one of the main issues revolved around a lack of a framework that could help the fire service capture the importance of diversity.
From the discussions that were held on diversity, the panel obtained feedback about some of the areas that need to be addressed. One that stood out was the importance of departments mirroring the community they work in. Another great discussion centered on how to better recruit women and minorities into the fire service. Some of those suggestions included the importance of marketing to the right target audience and understanding the culture of those minority groups a department is trying to recruit.
However, one of the main highlights of the Human Relations session involved a discussion about having the IAFF and IAFC presidents jointly sign a diversity statement, which would include language that captures the essence of diversity. The joint signing will establish a common message on its importance from both the IAFC and IAFF.
Through the panel discussion format, I strongly believe that those who attended the diversity session of the LMI Conference walked away with a better understanding of diversity issues. What's more, I believe the IAFC and IAFF leadership are jointly taking great measures to ensure the fire service has a framework that can be used to enhance the importance of respecting and understanding diversity.
The LMI Conference offered me the opportunity to understand that diversity is important to the fire service and that through unity we can enhance the image of our surrounding communities and cultural landscape.