FSWO announces 2022 winner of Diversity & Inclusion Award, Allied Firefighters of Canada/Alliance des Pompiers/ières du Canada

“Strength in Diversity and Inclusion” - these are the words featured on the home page of the Allied Firefighters of Canada. Pictured are AFC members Charles McGregor, Patti Youn, Frank Jones, Michelle John and Ryan Agard.

Throughout the history of the fire service, firefighters have found family within their profession. For some members however, achieving a feeling of true belonging within the service is not as easy as for others.

As human beings, we all worry about fitting in. Code switching and hiding parts of ourselves, our families and our culture is a daily exercise for firefighters from underrepresented groups who want to be accepted - who hope to belong. Brené Brown differentiates between “belonging” and "fitting in" in her book Atlas of the Heart. She writes: "Belonging is the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us. Because this yearning is so primal, we often try to acquire it by fitting in and by seeking approval, which are not only hollow substitutes for belonging, but often barriers to it.”

For many years, homogeneity was prized in the fire service, with hiring decisions often made based on shared family histories, sports interests and hobbies. Chiefs talked about the importance of ensuring new hires were a “good fit”, which sometimes meant the hire “reminds me of myself”. Thankfully things are starting to change. Allied Firefighters of Canada is already a key player in moving the fire services family forward on a path where we can move past the fight to ‘fit in’ and instead experience true belonging as our full honest selves.

Allied Firefighters of Canada had its beginnings with the necessary and private informal networking of firefighters. Those networks became more formalized in Toronto with the Black, Indigenous and People of Color Experience Group facilitated by TPFFA L3888 in 2019 after the murder of George Floyd. Response to the support and networking found in this group was overwhelmingly positive.

As one of the early senior members to attend the Toronto gatherings explained: ["For many senior Black members of Toronto Fire Service, as we began to meet in the early days of the TPFFA Experience Group, was that many of the group were flabbergasted that some of them had never met before, not even knowing that some of the others even existed within the job. There was instant transformation, feelings that “all this time, I thought I was alone, I know now that I wasn’t”. These meetings also brought feelings of “regret that we hadn’t found each other before now”. Some of this was pretty raw and pretty powerful.

The Toronto experience group grew organically to include fire services members from across the country. Empowered by their connections, these individuals worked to build AFC as a standalone not-for-profit that now serves firefighters and potential firefighters throughout Canada.

In recognition of the importance that an organization must live its values, the Allied Firefighters of Canada has established an eight-person all-gender multilingual racially diverse Board of Directors that includes fire service professionals of all ranks. They offer an active peer support referral service, moderate a very active online discussion chat group, and provide guidance and support to both those already working within emergency services and those aspiring to do so. AFC takes a proactive approach to political advocacy, and networks and partners effectively with other progressive organizations (for example FSWO) within the fire service and beyond in realms such as mental health services, employment services, and the legal community.

AFC is an open and inclusive organization whose commitment to advancing the principles of diversity, equity and inclusion is significant, not only for its many racialized members, but also for emergency services and society in general. FSWO is honoured to be a supporting partner and ally with the Allied Firefighters of Canada and commends their organization for their leadership.

This organization was born out of an imperative to promote diversity, equality and a healthy network for firefighters of all underrepresented groups. Allied Firefighters of Canada exists to support and unite equity-deserving firefighters.

FSWO is pleased to present the Diversity and Inclusion Award to the Allied Firefighters of Canada/Alliance des Pompiers/ières du Canada.