Answer ‘Why diversity is important’ to improve firefighter recruitment

Kerri Hatt

A fire department surpassed its goal to improve diversity by answering "Why is it important to have a diverse and inclusive department?" before determining what recruitment and selection actions to take.

John S. Butler, fire chief, Howard County (Md.) Department of Fire/Rescue Services, newly promoted fire chief in 2015, set a goal for increasing the diversity of his department. In 2016, Howard County welcomed the most diverse firefighter/paramedic trainee class in its history. Of the 36 applicants selected for the 26-week Emergency Medical Services and Fire training academy, 20 were women or other culturally diverse trainees, and eight were bilingual, speaking Chinese, French, Korean, Russian and Spanish.

For Butler, a member of the IAFC Human Relations Committee, the importance of diversity in the fire service and how to create top-to-bottom support for diversity recruitment and retention efforts starts with “answering the why.”

“Why is it important to have a diverse and inclusive department," Butler asked?

"Diverse organizations are healthier, more functional, more innovative and creative with ideas. Different viewpoints are embraced and effective," Butler said.

"I spend a lot of time answering the why.”

In an IAFC blog post featuring the 2016 recruit class, Butler offered perspective and tips on increasing recruit diversity, from working with local and national affinity groups, to collaborating with law enforcement recruiters, and networking at community and affinity group events and veteran’s job fairs.

“Take the time to develop a community analysis of your jurisdiction,” Butler said.

That community analysis should answer these questions:

  • What is your population growth rate?
  • What are the demographics in your jurisdiction?
  • What are the strategies for recruitment that reflect those demographics?

Butler noted the importance of keeping the end goal in mind when considering recruitment practices.

“For us, we envisioned hiring a culturally diverse group of individuals who will not only affect positive change in our community, but also have the knowledge and drive to progress in our department throughout their careers,” Butler said.

After answering the questions of why diversity is important and completing a community analysis, Butler recommends establishing an employee-led recruitment team. Inclusiveness is a key to success, he stressed.

Praising the department’s efforts, County Executive Allan H. Kittleman noted, “We continue to build a department that is more reflective of the diversity in our community. We know our ranks are the strongest when we embrace diversity to the fullest and open the doors of opportunity to all.”

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