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President's Letter: Time to Lead on Diversity and Inclusion

When a 26-year-old woman emerges from her Louisiana firefighting academy in April, she will be the only female firefighter in her department—one of 500 firefighters and support staff.

In a federal discrimination lawsuit, a female firefighter in a Midwestern county says she was “subjected to equipment tampering, clothing destruction, and gender-related slurs” at her place of employment.

In an East Coast state, authorities are investigating allegations that two volunteer firefighters assaulted two women career firefighters from another station while they battled a blaze.

Far too many departments are still woefully behind in effectively recruiting, training and retaining women. They look the other way, permitting discrimination and verbal and physical assaults on women firefighters.

When I write “departments,” I’m talking about all of us in the fire and emergency service. As our departments’ leaders, how can we allow these incidents to occur on our watch?

A powerful message was delivered in a 2014 video produced by iWomen with the IAFC:

We all have a responsibility to cultivate our fire departments to be law-abiding, inclusive organizations in which every firefighter, both male and female, is able to reach their full potential and is encouraged to do so.

Many departments across the country are doing just that—they’re working hard to ensure every firefighter, no matter their race or gender, has equal opportunities to succeed. Unfortunately, many are woefully lacking in this area.

The first step to addressing a problem is admitting you have it. If your organization is behind the times, where should you start? It begins with the IAFC Human Dignity Statement:

We must take positive steps to ensure human dignity by avoiding any remaining vestiges of discrimination or unequal treatment including, but not limited to, a basis on race, color, spirituality, gender, age, national origin, ancestry, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status or any legally protected characteristic. To allow such discrimination or unequal treatment, whether active or passive, weakens our abilities to respond to our varied customer bases.

The IAFC has resources to help you set a new course in your department:

  • Engage with other members on KnowledgeNet to discuss the challenges we all face and share solutions. You’ll find diversity and inclusion best practices and policies you can implement in your department.

I’m very proud to serve as the first female president of the IAFC; it only took us 142 years to get here! As I’ve often said, I don’t mind being the first, but I don’t want to be the last—or the only.

To ensure that doesn’t happen, you must be the change we want to see in the fire service. We must act today to ensure all firefighters have the tools and support they need to succeed.

Although we’re a long way from where we need to be, I have confidence that you can get us there!

Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr
President and Chair of the Board

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