From the Editor: Januay 2016
On that worst day, when Mrs. Smith – or Mrs. Singh or Mrs. Ahmad – calls 911, does it matter who shows up as long as the responders are properly trained and do their jobs to the best of their abilities?
By Laura King
The people who run the City of Toronto think it does; they want the fire-service professionals who respond to the more than 150,000 emergency calls that Toronto Fire Services (TFS) receives every year to reflect the community – the most diverse in Canada.
That’s no easy feat.
Fire fighting is not the sought-after career in many countries that it is in Canada. Few new Canadians, few women and few people from visible minorities apply to be operational firefighters.
As Chief Jim Sales said in a wide-ranging interview about the department’s career-access program that encourages non-traditional candidates to consider fire fighting, people who know firefighters tend to apply; those who don’t, don’t. Logic, then, dictates that if most TFS firefighters are white males then most applicants will be white and male.
Toronto’s 2015-2019 master fire plan mentions diversity nine times. Toronto Fire Services has a path-to-diversity strategy. And now that a hiring process is in place (see story page 16), the next step is to develop programs to ensure the needs of the diverse workforce are being met on the job.
If you’re Mrs. Smith, if English is your first (and likely only) language, and if you are familiar with emergency-response procedures – fire trucks and ambulances and paramedics and sirens and hospitals – then the status quo is probably just fine. That may also be the case in many small Canadian cities and towns. But in emergencies, communication is crucial, and in Toronto, where more than 30 per cent of residents speak a language other than English or French at home, it’s increasingly challenging, hence the TFS diversity strategy.
Why does this matter to firefighters and fire officers from coast to coast? In areas where recruitment is challenging and it’s tough to man fire halls during daytime hours, then diversity within the department probably isn’t an issue – although it’s certainly something to consider.
Canada welcomes more than 250,000 immigrants every year; most land in major cities – like Halifax, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver – places with career fire departments.
Toronto’s diversity program – which uses Ontario’s firefighter candidate testing
service – allows departments to diversify while maintaining physical, medical, interpersonal, clinical and technical standards; it’s a program others should emulate.
On your worst day I expect you would be grateful if whoever shows up to help speaks your language and understands your culture and customs.
I bet Mrs. Singh and Mrs. Ahmad would be too.
Months ago, the Fire Fighters’ Association of Ontario (FFAO) approached Canadian Firefighter about partnering to help bolster communication with its members. In the centre of this issue, you’ll see the FFAO newsletter and details of its new communication strategy.
The association represents volunteer firefighters in Ontario; it boasts new leadership and hopes the newsletter format will encourage new memberships.
Even if you’re outside Ontario, have a look and see what the FFAO does for its members and where it’s headed.
If you happen to be in the Niagara region, this summer, pop by the annual FFAO convention and camping/training weekend – I have no doubt that firefighters from anywhere would be welcome!