Diversity in the fire service has become a popular topic, and for good reason. The history of this honorable profession shows that men, in particular white males, constituted the majority of service members. For years the fire service had one primary job, to put out fires. Prior to adequate fire safety codes that required builders to make accommodations for controlling fires, buildings often went up in uncontrolled flames. What would follow, would be a mad dash to the fire scene where the only thing standing between fire containment to one building and a full blown conflagration, was the strength, stamina and bravery of the mostly male firefighters.
Their shared commitment in protecting the lives and property of their community and the blood, sweat and tears exerted in their efforts, created a tight bond. Often expressed as “Brotherhood”, “Sisterhood”, “Family-hood”, these words are all expressing the same level of commitment and loyalty that gets created through this shared experience.
Over the course of the fire service history, the primary job (putting out fires) has evolved to a variety of skills and services. This expansion of services makes it difficult for anyone to master all of the requisite skills. Thus, a team approach creates the advantage of subject matter experts. By complementing each others strengths, diverse teams are able to deliver the highest quality of service expected by our communities. With the fire service having more areas of impact within individual communities, the variety and quantity of problems needing to be solved, rise. And this is where diversity comes into play.
Rather than adhering to a fixed, socially-constructed category for people (race, gender, sexuality) real diversity is simply a description of the range of differences between a group of people. A room full of men, with light skin tones could have very diverse characteristics and qualities (ex: Upbringing, Values, Beliefs, Education, Self-Esteem, Experience and even appearance).
The danger in assuming diversity relates only to our socially constructed categories is the way in which this overlooks, at a steep cost, our very real differences. Our differences are what make us, us. They’re as equally important in our life as the similarities we all share. To assume groups don’t have differences, or worse, to dismiss them, is a disservice to the individual and to the communities we serve.
“…being a firefighter involves making a promise to the customer that we will respond to their call and do our very best.”Chief Brunacini
We serve our community better when the diversity of our service members reflect the diversity of our communities. Perspectives for problem solving, innovation, change, and even patient care and compassion are different and of a higher quality within diverse voices. The reality is, we are all different. Our ability to positively grow from diverse perspectives increases when we seek to understand our differences before passing judgement.
Our industry is a proud one. Built on courage and sacrifice. It is an honor to serve our communities. Through the diversity of our fire service members, we will gain the potential for positively impacting our communities while delivering the highest quality of service.
Quote taken from Chief Brunacini’s article Essentials Of Fire Department Customer Service, published Sept 1st, 1996 in Fire House Magazine. Click HERE for the article.