Fire Fighting in Canada

Comment: Equity, diversity and inclusion

June 7, 2021 
By Laura Aiken

In March, the EDI Celebration Series kicked off in conversation with Vancouver’s Fire Chief Karen Fry. Since then, the second episode aired with Susan Henry, chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency, and Sherry Colford, fire chief for St. John’s Regional Fire Department. This eight-part webinar series, which focuses on women as one aspect of equity, diversity and inclusion in the fire service, is a program of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs in collaboration with Fire Fighting in Canada through a generous grant from the Motorola Solutions Foundation. As host, this series has given me the driver’s seat on a most wonderful road trip of insights. It’s been a superlative bonus that the conversations have also been such great fun. There is a lot to learn from people if you ask the right questions.

Building a more equitable, diverse and inclusive fire service has become a top priority for many departments. Big city chiefs that have stepped into roles during the pandemic, such as Fry and Edmonton’s Joe Zatylny, have made their commitment to this topic clear, even amongst the formidable turmoil of COVID-19. The May Fire Fighting in Canada: The Podcast featured Tim Wilkinson, fire chief for Richmond Fire-Rescue, a department that went from public controversy to a leading example of inclusion done right. I’m sure it is on the radar for many fire chiefs managing fire departments, big and small.

There are many different approaches to this challenge. For example, Diversio, a Toronto-based data and consulting firm, shared its initial batch of 80 Diversio-certified Canadian companies that are using its AI-powered certificate program. The city of Toronto is among the inaugural batch. In the realm of media, the Institute of Communication Agencies (ICA) formed a partnership with Bell Media to run the first-ever IDEA competition, which will award $1 million worth of media inventory across Bell’s platforms to one marketing campaign that shows a clear message of diversity and inclusion. 

Municipalities and businesses are hiring chief diversity officers and forming diversity committees. The challenge is pressing, multi-faceted and it requires more work than simply hiring more of any one under-represented facet of the population. Diversity and inclusion are about more than numbers;  it’s also about cultural change and become a welcoming workplace for all. 


Micro changes become macro overhauls. History teaches us this. As we journey through this landmark moment in time, I am betting it will be reflected upon by our future scholars as the period when a significant shift happened in the diverse and inclusive nature of workplaces in the West.

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