Metro Chiefs event spotlights DEI efforts

Metro Chiefs are taking members where they NEED to be, whether they want to or knew they could get there


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I have found that it is usually the most difficult conversations that offer the most value, whether you’re talking about something as age-old as the color of fire trucks or as complex as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) efforts. It was those more complex conversations that the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association (Metro Chiefs) tackled at our annual conference last week.

Fire chiefs from across the United States, and even U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell (an honorary Metro Chief), were joined by chiefs from Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Belgium and Australia. (Note: A section of the IAFC and the NFPA, Metro Chiefs consist of the chiefs of member departments with a minimum paid staff of 350 personnel.)

DEI: Going beyond mere acknowledgement

Sessions and discussions covered critical leadership topics, many focusing on the conference theme of DEI in the fire service. Chiefs engaged in discussions for improvements in overall recruitment, specifically mentioning high school cadet programs and community mentoring opportunities. And further DEI discussion among chiefs went beyond merely acknowledging that there is more work to do in the arena to include a focus on ideas for advancement.

Dr. Kwame Cooper, assistant chief (ret.) from the Los Angeles Fire Department, presented a qualitative study about diversity-focused organizational learning within the LAFD, with a detailed history of the LAFD, including the 1974 institution of a federal consent decree the department operated under until 2002. Cooper’s presentation, a byproduct of his dissertation, Leading Diversity in the Fire Service: A Qualitative Descriptive Design Study, noted continued issues with diversity demographics within the LAFD, one of the factors that necessitated the federal consent decree in the first place. The most telling of disparities is number of female firefighters in the LAFD. Of the 3,370 firefighters, 123 are women – just under 3.7% of the force. And yes, Chief Kristin Crowley, the first female fire chief for LAFD, attended the entire conference.

2022/2023 METRO Chiefs Board of Directors (from left to right): President Robert Rocha, Corpus Christi (Texas) Fire Department; Vice President Loy Senter, Jr., Chesterfield County Fire and EMS; Secretary Earnest Malone, Indianapolis Fire Department; Treasurer John Butler, Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire Department; Senior Board member, William Bryson, Miami; Alternate Board Member, Steve Dongworth, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and Immediate Past President Don Lombardi, West Metro Fire Protection District. Sworn in by Past President John Lane. Not pictured: Board Member Trisha Wolford, Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Fire Department.
2022/2023 METRO Chiefs Board of Directors (from left to right): President Robert Rocha, Corpus Christi (Texas) Fire Department; Vice President Loy Senter, Jr., Chesterfield County Fire and EMS; Secretary Earnest Malone, Indianapolis Fire Department; Treasurer John Butler, Fairfax County (Virginia) Fire Department; Senior Board member, William Bryson, Miami; Alternate Board Member, Steve Dongworth, Calgary, Alberta, Canada; and Immediate Past President Don Lombardi, West Metro Fire Protection District. Sworn in by Past President John Lane. Not pictured: Board Member Trisha Wolford, Anne Arundel County (Maryland) Fire Department. (Photo/Courtesy of Marc Bashoor)

Dr. Jennifer Taylor – the director of the Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST) – led a panel interview and strategic planning session titled Behind the Headlines, encouraging chiefs to brainstorm root causes for DEI inequities and offering possible solutions within their own organizations. Our results will be collected by Dr. Taylor’s team and shared with the Board of Directors at a later date.

Further, Dr. Sara Jahnke presented Leadership Evidence to Impact – Implementing Policy on Reproductive Health and Lactation. Dr. Jahnke reviewed the many lactation options chiefs have implemented, including bathrooms, cleaning closets and open-unprotected spaces.

Throughout the conference, chiefs participated in hours of intense and robust discussions about DEI efforts. The brainstorming sessions were interspersed with frank discussions of chief-to-chief misunderstandings, biases (or perceived biases) and the difficult conversations that often accompany those misunderstandings and biases. The presentations prove more progress is needed for our departments to not only represent our communities but also to provide environments that are inclusive and equitable for all.

The Metro Chiefs Board of Directors resolved to continue the discussion and focus on programs that will help departments improve both understanding DEI and producing solutions to improve DEI. It is significant to note that the section this year installed the most diverse representative body of chiefs to the Board of Directors in the 57-year history of the Metro Chiefs.

Also, while the number of Black fire chiefs continues to grow within Metro Chiefs, this year’s conference saw a record 15 female Metro Chiefs in attendance – LAFD, Chicago, PGFD and 12 others from large urban systems – evidence that some progress has been made.

Where leaders need to be

Leadership is not always about taking people where they want to be – that’s the easy part. The Metro Chiefs are demonstrating the true definition of leadership – having the ability to take people where they NEED to be, whether they want to or knew they could go there.

To help you push forward conversations about DEI, I encourage you to engage outside assistance where appropriate, and to read the book “Fierce Conversations” by Susan Scott. A little help in starting these difficult discussions may be all you need to get on track.

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