Chief Avsec is still on vacation (working on his golf game daily!), but will be back next week. Filling in this week is another returning Guest Blogger, Charles Snyder, with more on his take on diversity in the fire service.
By: Charles E. Snyder, III
In a previous article, Public relations and diversity, I discussed the need for diversity in the American Fire Service as well as in any service-type business or organization. I was admittedly surprised by the level of enthusiasm and positive feedback in regards to that article, which was re-posted on several other social media websites including a number of professional groups on LinkedIn as well. It was even retweeted about half a dozen times on Twitter too.
But just as I was surprised by the positive feedback, I was also taken aback by some of the not-so-positive comments that I received. It would seem that some equate diversity as a means for giving someone a “free ride” or even reverse discrimination. The most common view was that it was simply a political ploy to appease the masses while discarding or at least skewing job requirements in favor of someone else simply because they were female or of a different ethnicity.
In light of the less-than-enthusiastic responses, I decided to write a follow-up article that clarified the flavor of diversity that is a positive for any type of service, business or organization.
Diversity is community driven
First and foremost, diversity is about inclusion, unity, community and ultimately respect. These are the very principles on which the founding fathers of this great nation, the United States of America, laid the ground-work for the freedoms that we enjoy today. And a diverse workforce is ideally made up of members from every age group, ethnicity, economic, and religious group within a given community.
For example, I will go back to the young man I mentioned in the previous article. The community I was serving at the time as a fire chief had a growing population of Puerto Rican families that had no representation within the fire department. This group rarely supported the department fundraisers and was also one of the least receptive to all attempts at fire prevention and other safety education, despite being one of the groups more likely to experience a fire or some other type of life-threatening emergency.
It was not until the young man decided to join the fire department that the fire department’s various programs for fire and life safety really started making some progress. Sure we had all sorts of Spanish literature, pamphlets and even a multilingual website, but it took that young man’s insight to his insular community within the community for it to finally click. He bridged the generational, ethnic and cultural gaps between his family and the fire department. And that fire department has been reaping the benefits ever since!
Granted it took about a year, but the department started seeing an influx of new recruits from this previously untapped group. Only a handful were really interested in becoming first-responders, but many more supported the fire department in other ways such as helping with fundraisers as well as other support activities. The best thing was that everyone benefited!
Diversity is a win-win situation
The take-home from this is that diversity is a win-win situation for all involved. If it is not a win-win solution, then it is not the kind of diversity to which I have been alluding to. It is really as simple as that.
Going back to the above example, the Puerto Rican community within the whole community was historically hard to reach out to. However with just that one young man, it all changed practically overnight in the greater scope of things. The fire department had an influx of four first-responders and three times as many support personnel.
Just as important, the fire department programs for fire and life safety education found new life in a more-receptive audience. Interestingly enough, there was also a noticeable decline in fires within that cross-section of the community over the course of a three year period.
In a nutshell, the fire department “won” with more volunteer members and better public relations. The whole community won because the fire department was stronger, able to respond more quickly to calls for services as well as reaching a wider segment of the citizens with public education efforts.
The Puerto Rican community also benefited as now there was a bridge for their language and culture and the individuals all benefited as now having a family-oriented avenue for serving or giving back to their neighbors and the community as a whole.
As an aside, it was also a great example of the fire department’s Latin motto; Stamus Unita (We Stand United).
It was a win-win-win-win situation; that is what diversity is all about! Anything less than that is not diversity, but a form of discrimination, pure and simple.
For the haters and the nay-sayers out there, I will leave you with this thought. At 3am Granny Smith does not care what color your skin is, whether or not you are a man or a woman, what number is on your helmet or who you pray to when her home is going up in flames. Your priority is to serve no matter who your partner is.
In closing I would like to end on a positive note, by emphasizing once more that diversity is about bringing people of different cultures, age-groups, languages and ethnicity together. It is about including and unifying those people towards a common goal. It is about respect, understanding and teamwork, because we can accomplish much more working together than we ever could as individuals.
See and read more “Charles” on his website: http://www.charlesesnyderiii.com