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Anaheim (Calif.) Responders Pursue Better Diversity

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The Fire Department is envisioning a staff more reflective of the cultures and ethnicities found in the city.

That means recruiting more women, Latinos, Asian Americans and Arab Americans, among others, to mirror Anaheim's changing demographics, fire Chief Randy Bruegman said.

Anaheim's department is one of six in California that participated this month in a workshop aimed at better meeting the needs of a diverse community. Later this year, Anaheim will participate in a national workshop to continue leadership training and education on diversity. The city is working under the guidance of a nonprofit group, Fire 20/20.

In part, the firefighters are learning:

A Muslim family may have religious issues with modesty. A first responder should be aware that a woman wearing a hijab who is in need of medical attention may be uncomfortable being touched by a male paramedic. A female paramedic might not be available, but the firefighter could at least be aware of the hurdle.

Anaheim has a large, growing Vietnamese population. Bruegman said firefighters should be aware that with many Asian cultures it would be best, when practical, to talk with the eldest family member out of respect.

"I think that's a great start, that our Fire Department is actually looking at those issues," said Zair Samad, an Anaheim resident who lives near a cluster of Arab American businesses known as Little Arabia. "Some people who come from authoritarian countries fear people in uniform; and I really think that kind of effort can break down barriers."

The department has made inroads toward better serving the Spanish-speaking population: 33 people in the department speak fluent Spanish (24 of them are sworn firefighters).

The chief talked to The Orange County Register about the department.

How do you go about changing recruiting when there has been so little recruitment at all in recent years?

It's a slow process - a generational thing. (The department had 290 full-time positions in 2007; it now has 263.) But with retirement and attrition, we are finally in a position of being able to hire again.

Recruiting efforts need to start much earlier. We've traditionally gone to career days starting in high school and handed out a brochure. But by then, many kids are already headed down a career track.

We are thinking we need to talk to them and their families early, maybe age 7, to let people of various backgrounds know that they could be firefighters.

We also learned that we need to reach out via Facebook or other social media, because that's where younger people stay in touch.

How about gender equality?

We need to work on that more as well (Anaheim has two sworn female firefighters).

We go out into the community and we still hear people talk about "the firemen." I tell them, "We are firefighters, we haven't been firemen in at least 30 years."

Would you institute quotas based on gender and ethnicity?

We would not head down that path. But we would look at changing the recruitment pool. Right now, you go to an academy and you still see predominantly white males; that's what needs to change.

The last thing we want to do is bring down the standard to meet a quota. When a firefighter is on the back of a firetruck, they need to be equally trained and capable. Firefighters wouldn't stand for anything less. Nor would the public.
 



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