Author(s): Angelo Verzoni. Published on November 2, 2020.

Prioritizing Diversity

On the heels of a summer of civil unrest, three metro chiefs deliver a timely presentation on diversity in the fire service in the 2020 Urban Fire Forum


In September, as the United States was still collectively reeling from a summer marked by civil unrest and protests over racial injustice, fire chiefs from across the country and around the world gathered virtually for a presentation on promoting diversity, equality, and inclusion in the fire service. The event, delivered by fire chiefs from three major urban areas in North America, was part of the 2020 Urban Fire Forum, an annual event organized by NFPA and attended by members of the Metropolitan Fire Chiefs Association.

“Since its inception more than 50 years ago, the Metro Chiefs has led the way in fire service diversity, equality, and inclusion,” said Russ Sanders, executive secretary of the Metro Chiefs and a regional director at NFPA. “We’ve never been satisfied with the status quo, and the presentation at this year’s forum is just one example of our continuing efforts to learn and share stories about creating a better, more inclusive fire service.”

Deryn Rizzi, chief of Vaughan Fire and Rescue Service in Ontario, Canada, kicked off the presentation by framing the issue of a lack of diversity in the fire service. “Picture a typical firefighter ... if you imagined a white man, that’s understandable,” Rizzi said, adding that 96 percent of career firefighters in the US are men and 82 percent are white. Later, she challenged all fire service leaders to ask themselves whether their departments were doing enough to foster a more diverse, inclusive environment—and if not, to do something about it.

“In light of recent events in our communities and around the world, it’s important as fire service leaders to reemphasize our strong commitment to diversity and inclusion,” Rizzi said. “All fire service leaders must make it a priority to promote diversity, inclusion, and basic human dignity inside each fire house”—qualities that can help fire departments, but also the community as a whole, she said.

Otto Drozd, who has led four metropolitan fire departments and is now the chief of the Seminole County Fire Department in Florida, emphasized the consequences that a lack of diversity can have for a fire department, especially those in communities with large minority populations. “Some of the outcomes of that would be the inability to recognize the needs of the community, a loss of empathy by personnel towards community members, and an erosion in the trust the community has for the department, thereby eroding community support,” Drozd said.

The full presentation—plus presentations on firefighter cancer, new technologies influencing emergency response, and more from the 2020 Urban Fire Forum—can be watched at

ANGELO VERZONI is staff writer for NFPA Journal. Top photograph: Arizona Public Service