Take steps to facilitate diversity in your department; Customize recruitment to meet your needs and goals.

Increasing diversity in a fire department will improve overall service to the community. Becoming more sensitive to other cultures will improve actions and decisions during emergencies. As public safety and public service organizations, fire departments need to better understand, communicate with and enlist cooperation in our multicultural communities.

The IAFF is committed to increasing diversity in the fire service. Along with our constituency groups, we stand firmly opposed to discrimination and harassment in all forms and all types of environments. Many departments make diversity part of their mission. Not only is it part of their overall statement, but they are committed to it. Constituency groups and departments can work together to make diversity a priority.

Contact [email protected] with any comments or questions about using IAFF toolkits.

– Take steps to facilitate diversity in your department.

There are many factors that make the difference in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. As your department develops its recruitment program, it’s important to also take steps to facilitate diversity within the department. For example, will the department provide conflict resolution? Will it implement a sexual harassment policy? Are there adequate facilities for women?

Anyone eligible for membership in the Association shall not be refused membership or, upon acceptance, be discriminated against because of race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, or by reason of disability. Local unions are urged to propose amendments to their own constitutions and/or by-laws to reflect these same prohibitions against discrimination.

– IAFF Constitution and By-Laws, Article III, Section 1

Making It a Mission

Increasing diversity in a fire department will improve overall service to the community. Becoming more sensitive to other cultures will improve actions and decisions during emergencies. As public safety and public service organizations, fire departments need to better understand, communicate with and enlist cooperation in our multicultural communities.

The IAFF is committed to increasing diversity in the fire service. Along with our constituency groups, we stand firmly opposed to discrimination and harassment in all forms and all types of environments. Many departments make diversity part of their mission. Not only is it part of their overall statement, but they are committed to it. Constituency groups and departments can work together to make diversity a priority.


Real-Life Examples

Consider the following sample mission statements taken from department web sites:

  • The (City) Fire Department is committed to serving the (city) area community with the highest level of life and property protection. We will achieve this by providing excellent and compassionate service in an atmosphere that encourages innovation, professional development and diversity.
  • The mission of the Fire Department is to protect the lives and property of the people of (city) from fires, natural disasters, and hazardous materials incidents; to save lives by providing emergency medical services; to prevent fires through prevention and education programs; and to provide a work environment that values cultural diversity and is free of harassment and discrimination.
  • We provide quality service, professional fire protection and life safety to meet the needs of our community. Our values are: Diversity, Strength through diversity; Respect, Trust, support and honor both internal and external; Teamwork, our team members are our most valuable assets; Service, we strive for excellence.
  • The (City) Fire Department is made up of a group of dedicated personnel that represent the diversity of the community. These persons work every day of the year to improve the quality of service provided to the community. I am proud to serve this community with the quality of persons that personally give so much back to the community.
  • Our Mission: To protect the quality of life for present and future generations through interaction with our community, compassionate service and an atmosphere that encourages innovation, professionalism and diversity.

Instituting Diversity Training

Diversity training is important for teaching every one in the fire department the fundamentals of diversity in the workplace. Often, it becomes part of the training for new recruits.

A city’s human resources department may assist in updating or creating a diversity training program within the fire department. The program might contain a presentation, guided discussions and real scenarios that allow participants to gain a better understanding of sensitivity in the workplace and when serving the public. Diversity training is an important responsibility of management.

Real-Life Examples

One mid-sized, midwestern local decided to take action with its department to improve the human relations in the firehouse and in the fire service. The local sent members to the IAFF Ernest A. Buddy Mass Human Relations Conference, where they learned how to approach diversity issues in the fire service. They used their new ideas and resources to create a diversity training program. They then teamed up with their human resources coordinator in their city to develop a program specifically for fire fighters. They discussed the unique challenges and issues that they faced both when working with the public and in the firehouse. The city was able to cover the costs for the program and helped research the curriculum.

Starting a Human Relations Committee

The IAFF recommends that all constituency groups establish a Human Relations Committee. This committee should be equipped to handle conflict resolution and educate members on human relations issues.

Consider the following roles for a Human Relations Committee:

  • Developing policy
  • Building relationships with the community
  • Developing mentoring programs
  • Building relationships with constituency groups
  • Sponsoring cultural events or department events
  • Organizing education or training
  • Assisting in conflict resolution

The IAFF has an Elected Human Relations Committee with a mission to:

  • Develop and recommend guidelines for constituency groups to use with regard to human relations
  • Improve relationships and promote understanding among all brother and sister members
  • Encourage greater involvement of all IAFF members
  • Recognize diversity as an important component of the success of this union


Real-Life Examples

One western U.S. local works closely with its Minority Affairs Committee. The Committee offers a perspective on the backgrounds of those they represent when discussing applicable issues, and serve in an advisory role in the department and the local. The Committee also provides assistance in dispute resolution. The Committee includes one African-American, one Hispanic, one woman and one Asian/Pacific Islander/Native American. Committee members are nominated and elected by their constituency group.


For more information, view IAFF Human Relations.

Building Relationships With Constituency Groups

Minority organizations within a fire department are the greatest resource in building diversity. Constituency groups, such as an Hispanic organization or women’s group, provide a specific perspective and can also assist the department in its recruitment efforts. Affiliates that do not have a constituency group can look to other organizations within the community or even the AFLCIO.

A constituency group’s goal is to promote and support its members. It is crucial that relationships between constituency groups and the local be strengthened, both for mutual aid and as a service to members. Constituency members can provide crucial advice when creating and implementing a targeted recruitment program. Essentially, an alliance is created where both parties assist one another towards a common goal.


Real-Life Examples

One western U.S. local understands how crucial its relationship with constituency groups has been in increasing diversity in its department. Constituency groups play a key role in bringing in new and quality candidates to the fire service. These organizations actively look for potential applicants and encourage them to consider a career in fire fighting. Because the city does not have a large recruitment program or budget, it relies on word of mouth and these relationships to increase minority recruitment. The local’s cohesive relationship with the groups wasn’t always as strong as is today, but it has been able to work with other groups to strengthen the voice for fire fighters. The local now endorses political candidates and stays active in city politics, in addition to finding excellent minority recruit fire fighters.


Helpful Tips:

  • Create a minority outreach list to organize contacts
  • Assist constituency groups with their events and programs
  • Feature constituency groups on the local or department website if possible

Education of Applicants

Education is an important factor in applying and becoming a fire fighter. Each fire department sets a minimum requirement of education. Many locals and departments also offer refresher courses or preparation workshops for the exams. Offering education programs for applicants who are women or minorities assists in preparing them to become fire fighters and in building confidence.

It may also be necessary to examine the relationship between a recruit education level and how they are recruited. One Canadian local found that it was not reaching its First Nation, or Native American, population. The local realized that it was recruiting primarily at fire colleges, which do not have a diverse pool of applicants.


Real-Life Examples

One western U.S. local provides an extensive educational program to selected applicants. A member of the department can sponsor an applicant or recommend someone to participate in the educational program. The eight-week class helps applicants brush up on math, writing and judgment skills for the entrance exam. A group within the local oversees the program, which began as assistance to Hispanics in its community. Students pay $25 for supplies, and are asked to sponsor someone else after they become a fire fighter. The group finds that by having hand-picked applicants and by helping them through the application process, they are able to increase minorities in its department.One department in the midwestern U.S. organized a residential camp for young women ages 15 to 19 to allow them to experience the life of a first responder. Camp Inferno gives prospective female fire fighters a taste of the work of a first responder, while explaining the career options they have when entering the field. The camp is intended to increase the interest in working for the department, but also to give a learning experience in leadership, teamwork and communication.Another program, Camp Blaze, in Washington and California has also been successful at teaching young women about the fire service, while instilling confidence.


Helpful Tips:

  • Create a minority outreach list to organize contacts
  • Assist constituency groups with their events and programs
  • Feature constituency groups on the local or department website if possible

Establishing a Mentoring Program

A mentoring program can help foster relationships between incoming applicants, new recruits and members of the local and current members of the fire department. Mentoring programs have been highly successful in increasing diversity and helping in the recruitment and retention of minorities in the fire department.

Mentoring programs help in developing union members who feel included, valued and involved.

Real-Life Examples

A midwestern local established a Cadet Program that allows youth to get involved in the fire department and in the community. The program has seen its cadets become fire fighters or get involved in emergency response, but it has mainly served as a mentoring program for at-risk youth.

The Cadet Program focuses on assisting cadets in achieving goals and being good citizens. The program is made up of teens, from 15-19 years old, who are considered at-risk. The local finds potential candidates through the local teen center, Black Achievers program and through local churches. The cadets meet monthly and work at community and local events, including MDA drives and the community’s Safety First Day.

Fire fighters become mentors to the cadets for school, home and societal issues. The Cadet Program places an emphasis on representing the fire department. Cadets wear special uniforms and have standards they must follow for school and behavior in order to stay in the program, which often serves as an incentive. Cadets also assist at multiple alarm fires, picking up hoses and helping with rehabilitation. The program first began working with scouts groups as an Explorers program, but the local found a lack of participation with scouting and adapted the program to focus on at-risk youth.


Other Factors to Consider

  • Candidate Physical Ability Test (CPAT)
  • Income level comparable with cost of living in the city
  • Morale of fire department
  • Application periods (having an open and continuous period decreases diversity)
  • Promotional policies
  • Support of fire department and the fire department’s relationship with the city
  • Hiring preference system (factors such as military service, residency, previous experience, etc)
  • Demographics of the community

– Customize recruitment to meet your needs and goals.

Low budget, small staff, big goals – these are all challenges you may be facing when sitting down to design your program. But the time and commitment to the program will make the difference. Maintain a good working relationship with the department/management and with any constituency organizations in order to work together in creating and implementing a targeted recruitment program.

Items You Can Do TODAY to Start Diverse Recruitment

  • Contact a reporter at your local, city or community newspaper to let them know about your diverse recruitment efforts. Discuss your plan and the goals you are trying to accomplish.
  • Increase the number of images of women and minorities on your website and Facebook page.
  • Use word of mouth to spread the word about recruitment. Talk to those in the same demographic that you want to recruit.
  • Get out and visit communities for populations that are not well represented in the fire house and get to know the community leaders – ministers, teachers, community organization leaders, recreation program staff, etc.
  • Visit or participate in community events to increase the fire department’s visibility and to recruit potential applicants.
  • Consider which program might be most needed in your department. Would a mentorship program really help? Would a candidate prep workshop help conquer low test scores?

There are many factors that make the difference in recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce. As your department develops its recruitment program, it’s important to also take steps to facilitate diversity within the department. For example, will the department provide conflict resolution? Will it implement a sexual harassment policy? Are there adequate facilities for women?

Creating an Effective Program

Recruitment methods will be based on several factors:

  • What would have the greatest impact?
  • What you can undertake?
  • What you can afford?

First, create a goal for your program. The goal may be based on the demographics of the community or by the incoming applicants in the department. Or, create a reasonable goal based on what the department needs or can achieve in a specified timeline. All of these factors will play a role in determining your goal.

The department may already set aside funds for recruitment. Whether the budget is very small or funded by the local, use the resources that are available. Use the local’s relationships with the media, constituency groups and within in the community to strengthen the program.

Don’t forget to consider when you will do recruitment. Research shows that having continuous and open application periods and continuous testing decreases diversity. Beefing up recruitment and test preparation programs closer to the time of recruitment may have greater impact on diverse applicants.

Consider the following five strategies when creating your program:

1. Use a combination of formal and informal methods: 

Formal Methods:

    • Website (city or specific website for message)
    • Cadet program or presentations/table at schools
    • E-newsletter
    • Posting on local’s website
    • Advertising in the newspaper
    • News stories
    • Open house
    • Public Service Announcement (PSA)
    • Job fairs
    • Orientation session/informational session
    • Mail/newsletter
    • Radio (one local invited a radio station to broadcast from their fire station)
    • Banners
    • Ads targeted at demographic
    • Community events
    • Banners (one local put a banner on every fire station highlighting the benefits of the job)

Informal Methods:

    • Word of mouth (when your targeted demograhic is spreading the message)
    • Sponsorship programs (allow current employees to recommend candidates)
    • Mentorship program or education/test prep program
Word of Mouth
Word of mouth is a successful method, especially when your targeted audience is spreading the message. For example, women can talk with other women about being a first responder and have greater influence.


2. Provide key details about the job.

Many departments have found giving more information about the work, benefits and career possibilities allows potential applicants to see the opportunities behind working in the fire service.

Real-Life Examples

One southwestern U.S. local provides detailed information such as job duties, steps in the selection process, test preparation assistance, salary and benefits. One department also provides information on the variety of careers in the fire service, especially for younger people who are looking to start their careers.


3. Specifically target the group you wish to recruit.

Even when targeting a particular group, a message of inclusiveness can be communicated to all groups. You may organize an event specifically for Hispanics, and find that only half the crowd was from the target group. Include the group you wish to target in everything you do – your ads, your website, your recruitment. There are concerns regarding targeted recruitment that must be considered for your area. For example, California Proposition 209 specifically prohibits programs, initiatives or policies that give preferential treatment on the basis of race or gender.

4. Communicate diversity in all your messages.

Show diversity on your website, recruiting information, study guide and anything else you are passing out.


Real-Life Examples

One eastern U.S. department enlists the help of its constituency organization in their recruitment effort. It also reaches out to local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and Asian American associations. They both use word of mouth and formally advertise in major and local newspapers, radio and television. This combination has been successful for their department.


5. Create a mentoring program to assist minorities into the department and through their first year.

Studies show that individuals with mentors rated themselves as having more career opportunities, recognition, satisfaction and promotions than those without.

Sample Recruitment Programs

Looking to Other Organizations
A large, mid-atlantic local took a different approach to recruitment new candidates – they turned to the private sector to increase marketing and build tracking systems. By creating a model based on “access” and “awareness,” they were able to build a unique relationship with candidates. This local decided to learn as much as they could about potential applicants as they applied.

First, the department looked at themselves and asked, “How do we market our department?” They wanted to make people aware of the great benefits, career opportunities and details behind first responder work. They used this information to build a recruitment program. They also spoke with their African American constituency group for advice and worked with them to tailor their program to reach particular groups.

The department also decided to focus on accessibility during their recruitment. They visited every festival and event in their area and even community centers and large churches, including specific minority events. Dressed in street-clothes, they provide information about the specifics behind the job. They provide flyers with “myths” and “facts” about the job, in addition to the types of calls and work they may perform. They had a hotline that interested applicants could call if they wanted to find more information at a later time.

The departments also places a banner on each fire house a few times a year that reads, “Are you interested in a career?” and lists some of the benefits of being a first responder.

Using their new model, this local was able to learn more about each candidate and provide them with more information about the department and the process. Each candidate gets a cadet ID number. They do not give out applications by mail or computer – candidates have to come down to the station and apply in person. They provide them with a study guide for the test and answer any additional questions they might have.

California’s Commission to Recruit Women for the Fire Service
The Commission to Recruit Women for the Fire Service’s mission is to recruit and retain women in the fire service. Part of the California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee (CFFJAC), the Commission focuses on recruitment programs high school and community college students, in addition to women in the military. Their website provides downloadable materials focused on recruiting women, such as the brochure pictured right.

The Commission, founded in 2005, attends and speaks at workshops and conferences throughout the United States with the goal of recruiting women to the fire service. Visit the website to learn more about the CFFJAC and their Commission.

Making the Commitment to Diversify
A small, southern fire department went under a decree to diversify. They knew that management and labor had to be on the same page. They knew they needed to look at their community and their hiring practices. They asked themselves, “Who is taking the test to become a fire fighter?” They decided that, in order to increase women and minorities in their department, they needed to change their recruitment practices. They made a commitment to diversify their force.

The department decided to go to their local schools. They targeted recruitment in middle and high schools, trying to make their department as appealing as they could. They focused on the career aspects of becoming a first responder and the various jobs that a young person could start out with. The recruiters also spoke with community leaders and built partnerships with targeted areas. For example, their recruitment program advertised with a black radio station and even had them do a live program from one of their stations. The recruiter looked into radio listening statistics and found women in their region listened to a particular station and advertised their department through it.

Once their staff began to change, new minority fire fighters served as role models to the community as they responded to calls across the city.

This department found that they were able to provide better service once they diversified. The diversified staff provided new insight into the communities they served, which helped meet their commitment to excellent service.

Recruitment Profiles

As part of the Diversity Initiative, the IAFF surveyed fire departments to find examples of departments that have a diverse workforce. These departments provided examples and insight behind their methods.

Large Midwestern Department

  • 25 part-time recruiters; 14 are women and minorities
  • 1% of budget goes to recruitment
  • They have never been under consent decree and representation of women and minorities in their workforce.

This department recruits through news stories, advertising in newspapers, ads in the newspapers, radio and television (whose audience is women), direct mail, word of mouth through strong relationships with community groups, job fairs, churches, schools, open houses and on the department website.

“We make use of our current diversity and continue to build on it. We involve current employees in recruitment and formalize word of mouth activities through community organizations. We also continue to use formal methods of advertising to reach all segments of our market. Our website and recruiting materials reinforce the message of valuing diversity.”

Medium-Sized Midwestern Department

  • 20% of this department is women
  • Most of their ethnic diversity is new – within the last 10 years

This department recruits by advertising in major and community newspapers, radio and television, word of mouth, relationships with community colleges, recruiting in other cities or towns, news stories, job fairs, churches, schools, open houses, orientation sessions and the department website.

“We hire quality and diverse people. We have a cooperative union/administration program, which assigns mentors to new employees. These new employees communicate with candidates and keep them informed – they act as informal recruiters and also teach classes.”

Small Southern Department

  • Nearly 50% black
  • Seven part-time recruiters, five of which are women and minorities

The department recruits through advertising in the paper, test preparation, job fairs, open houses and through a cadet program.

“Offer high school students the opportunity to explore these career paths through courses taught at a technical school. Encourage, support and provide training for newly hired minority and women fire fighters. Rigorously enforce harassment policies. Go where minorities are to recruit. Don’t expect them to come to you.”

Mid-sized Mid-Atlantic Department

  • Never been under a consent decree
  • Shown a commitment to diversity in their recruitment, selection and internal commitment efforts
  • Has mandatory harassment and diversity training
  • All stations accommodate women
  • Gains individual feedback with candidates throughout recruitment/hiring process
  • Use over 20 methods for recruiting
  • One full-time recruiter, 20 part-time; 10 minorities and 8 women
  • 1% of department budget goes to recruiting

This department recruits through targeted advertising in major and local newspapers; word of mouth through community groups, department and other websites; a high school cadet program; administering candidate surveys to track recruitment success; a mentoring program (including CPAT prep for 12 weeks); and the use of written tests and an oral board process professionally developed and customized for the department to minimize adverse impact.

“We involve current employees in recruiting and formalizing word of mouth activities through community organizations. We use extensive formal methods of advertising to reach all segments of the market. We make sure candidates feel welcome, including personal notification of their test score. If a candidate does not pass the test, they are invited to try again next time.”

Tips for Implementing Your Program

Tips for Implementing Your Program

  • Ask minorities to help recruit.
  • Use every opportunity to recruit.
  • If something isn’t working, like visiting a certain event, shift your time elsewhere.
  • Create a website to communicate with potential applicants.
  • Start with younger people by visiting middle schools, high schools and universities. Consider starting a cadet program to get youth involved in the fire department.
  • Maintain a recruitment hotline so those who aren’t quite interested at that time can call back and find out more information.
  • It’s beneficial to have personal contact with candidates during recruitment. This might include a preparation class.

– Take steps to facilitate diversity in your department.

Constituency Groups

African American Resources

Asian American Resources

Latino Resources

LGBT Resources

Women’s Resources

Canadian Resources

United States Government Resources

Other Related Organizations

Fire Fighters