City Fire Department Implements Diversity Program to Reach Out to Women and People of Color


Fire extinguisher on flame backgroundTo kick off National Fire Prevention Week, the Rochester Fire Department hosted an open house on Oct. 9 from noon to 3 p.m. Station tours and fire safety displays were set up to teach children the dangers of fire and how to prevent home fires, and also show them how the department handles emergency response calls.

Earlier, on Oct. 5, Mayor Lovely Warren, Councilman Michael Patterson, and Rochester Fire Department Chief John Schreiber visited Nathaniel Hawthorne School 25 to teach pre-kindergarten students the importance of fire safety as well, and reminded them of important fire safety facts, like that smoke alarms only last about 10 years, on average. These visits and demonstrations may even spark a child’s interest in becoming a firefighter or first responder.

Those who become firefighters are overwhelmingly white males, leading some fire departments to employ diversity programs in order to attract more black, Asian, Hispanic, and female responders.

The Los Angeles Fire Department, where nearly half of all members are white and 97% are male, has implemented “magnet” programs that tour schools in the area, allowing students to see if they have what it takes to join the force. Currently, the LAFD is targeting more minority and female teens.

Two LA high schools are participating in the LAFD Academy programs. Between both programs, over one quarter of the cadets are female.

LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas says that it’s not just LA that is struggling to hire more female firefighters, but all departments nationwide, due to little expressed interest from females.
“Something like this can be very empowering for young females,” said Gail Sonoda, a firefighter and LAFD Academy instructor. She believes that it builds confidence in their abilities to do just as well as the men, “not only firefighting, but anything else they set their minds to.”

The same goes for minorities, according to Chief Terrazas, who expresses deep desire and need for diversity within the department, especially in a city as diverse as LA.

“We provide a better level of service to the public when we walk into somebody’s home for a medical call, and if they see a female or a Hispanic or an Asian person,” he said. “They can connect with us better.”

Many of the instructors are female and people of color, to encourage students who look like them to see themselves in those positions.

The National Fire Protection Agency reports that in 2012, of the total 295,000 career firefighters, 9.9% were of Hispanic origin, 7.7% were black, and only 3.4% were female. At this time, 2012 is the most recent recorded year.