Including Women in the Fire Service

A Strategy Toolkit for Fire Departments

Section 7

Key Takeaways

Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. —Ruth Bader Ginsburg

This toolkit offers diversity and inclusion strategies for your fire service according to specific pillars: leadership, recruitment, hiring, retention, and promotion. Many of the strategies within these pillars overlap and a department-wide effort will be required to improve diversity and inclusion. This can only be accomplished by examining your organizational culture and current policies, practices, and procedures.

Fire departments have a duty to build upon what has been learned through best practices. Each fire service will have its own path to diversity and inclusion. Look to your municipality’s existing diversity and inclusion mandate as a driver for change when developing strategies for your fire service.

Keep communication open across your organizational hierarchy to ensure priorities have been properly identified. There is no point in asking what firefighters want or need unless the department is prepared to act on its findings.

Understand that some financial costs will be incurred during the change process. However, the cost of doing nothing or implementing change haphazardly will have far greater repercussions to your service in terms of reputational and possibly financial risk.

Here are some key takeaways from each section of this toolkit:

SECTION 1: Introduction to Change

  • At the very heart of addressing diversity and inclusion is the prerequisite to examine your department’s culture and to be open to change.
  • Addressing diversity without addressing inclusion places fire departments at risk of tokenism, short-changes firefighters from underrepresented groups, and damages the fire department’s credibility with all members of the organization.
  • Effective approaches to diversity and inclusion improve the workplace for all members of the fire department, not just members of underrepresented groups.
  • Open communication with all staff regarding diversity and inclusion goals and priorities will go a long way to creating support among your fire department members.

SECTION 2: Leadership

  • Fire service leaders must ‘walk the talk’ in embracing diversity principles by cultivating an environment where staff can hold leaders accountable for removing barriers to inclusion.

SECTION 3: Recruitment

  • Actively seek out underrepresented groups by going to them and offering recruitment sessions tailored to their questions and concerns. Don’t wait for candidates to come to you.
  • Create programs to introduce women and girls to firefighting. These programs will not only open your recruitment pool, but also build leadership on diversity and inclusion initiatives throughout your fire department.

SECTION 4: Hiring

  • To neutralize bias that may enter the hiring process, human resources best practices must be adopted during each stage, from job analysis and advertisement to screening interviews, to physical testing.
  • Provide appropriately-sized equipment to physical testing candidates to ensure an equitable process and compliance with health and safety requirements.

SECTION 5: Firefighter Retention

  • Build and retrofit stations using principles of universal design to support the messages of inclusion coming from leadership.
  • Provide custom-fitted PPE, including gloves, bunker coats, and pants as well as equipment that fits all types of bodies. For example, consider sourcing breathing apparatus to fit smaller bodies.
  • Implement clear, comprehensive, and defensible pregnancy and parental leave policies to create a positive impact on employee wellbeing and morale across rank and gender lines.

SECTION 6: Promotion

  • Make leadership development a priority early on in a firefighters’ career.
  • Prioritize leadership training in conflict resolution, anti-discrimination, and anti-harassment policies.