Day two of NFPA’s Responder Forum dove a little deeper into the topics of LGBTQ acceptance, unintentional bias, and cultural awareness prior to scholarship recipients breaking out into work groups to discuss community and social media engagement; hiring, recruitment, and retention processes; and hazing, bullying, and inclusion challenges.
The day began with an organizational breakfast where leaders from the nominating organizations were able to endorse their members’ efforts to raise the bar in the emergency response community.
UK firefighter Katie Cornhill with Dorset & Wilshire Fire & Rescue Service then provided perspective on transitional or transgender acceptance in her session, Fire Harms and Kills – So Does Non-Inclusive Leadership. The Communities Program Manager spoke about the history of equal rights dating back to the Magna Carta in 1215 and referenced landmark events such as the establishment of the U.S. Bill of Rights, which paved the way for the United States Constitution. “People perform better when they can be themselves. They work more efficiently, effectively, cohesively and confidently,” Cornhill said.
Class of 2015 Responder Forum graduate Manny Fonseca, PhD returned to the Forum to share his experiences so that attendees could better understand the unintentional biases and lack of cultural awareness that can often preclude emergency responders from garnering the trust and respect they need from residents. Fonseca used his academic, leadership and minority insight to elicit feedback from the audience about preconceived notions. Current president of the Hispanic Fire Fighters Association, Fonseca underscored the importance of engaging residents and working with community leaders to facilitate better relationships between authority figures and diverse audiences.
Rounding out the morning program was Dante James, co-founder of The Gemini Group, LLC which helps others better understand and implement racial equity (including gender, disability, and sexual orientation). James stressed, “Nothing has been more impactful in this nation than race. It’s a conversation that centers around the dominant culture – straight, white, dominant, able-bodied males.” James told the crowd, “Inclusion is about who’s sitting at the table.”
During the second half of the day, members of the Responder Forum broke out into work groups to answer questions such as:
- As leaders (rank is irrelevant) are we addressing gender discrimination/bullying head on?
- Does your organization take into account the demographics of the community when it comes to hiring, and if so, is that dynamic constantly monitored?
- Does your organization use mainstream social media when it comes to being engaged with the community? What are some benefits/value of using social media and what are some challenges?
At night it was time to celebrate both the collective achievement of the responder community and the commissioning of the NFPA Responder Forum Class of 2016 (scholarship candidates attend the Forum for three years).
During a special dinner reception, NFPA President and CEO Jim Pauley asked the graduating class, “Don’t let this all end tomorrow. Work at keeping in touch. Work at proactively gathering insights from your team and your Responder Forum peers when you return to your various stations. You are the future of the fire service – and we expect great things from you.”
His sentiments were reinforced by keynote speaker, Keith Bryant, the United States Fire Administrator. Bryant told the crowd of approximately 140, “It would be a wonderful thing for the fire service to be an example for the rest of society. As fire leaders, we are in the people business. Be people-centered, people-focused and people-committed.
The 2018 NFPA Responder Forum continues on Wednesday, when ideas are shared and experiences are considered in an effort to address the modern day challenges of the emergency response community.