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Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) in the Fire and Rescue Service

The FIRST Center is leading important research and providing service related to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the fire and rescue service. Our goal is to help fire departments and fire service organizations assess their climate for inculsion and their readiness to change regarding DEI issues. We conduct assessments through surveys, interviews, and focus groups. We provide resources helpful to creating a vision for DEI and enacting change.

The following definitions from the DEI Extension (2021) are fundamental to our approach:

"Diversity is defined as the presence of differences that may include race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, nationality, socioeconomic status, language, (dis)ability, age, religious commitment, or political perspective. Based on these differences, some populations have been and still remain underrepresented and marginalized in and among broader society."

"Equity includes the promotion of justice, impartiality, and fairness within procedures, processes, and the distribution of resources by institutions or systems. Tackling equity issues requires an understanding of the root causes of disparate outcomes within our society."

"Inclusion can be defined as an outcome to ensure the diversity is actually welcomed. Inclusion outcomes are met when a person, institution, and program is truly inviting to all. Inclusion is the degree to which diverse individuals are able to participate fully in the decision-making processes and development opportunities within an organization or group.

The FIRST Center proffers the following formula for consideration by the fire and rescue service:


It is not enough to have diversity. We can have everyone sitting around the kitchen table, but unless their voices are equally valued and encouraged to speak, we will not have an inclusive fire and rescue service.

The FIRST Center stands behind the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) in their statement on diversity, equity, and inclusion:

"The IAFC urges the entire fire and emergency service to take positive steps to ensure human dignity by avoiding any remaining vestiges of discrimination or unequal treatment including, but not limited to, a basis on race, color, spirituality, gender, age, national origin, ancestry, socio-economic backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, ethnicity, marital status, or any legally protected characteristic."

At the FIRST Center, we have made our own commitment to fostering a diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture. DEI is one of the core competencies for our professional staff, students, and faculty.

Views of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in the Fire and Rescue Service

In 2021, the FIRST Center created a white paper summarizing previous work done by Wren Catrillo, MPH, for their 2019 master's thesis. This qualitative study involved interviews with fire service leadership from across the United States aimed at discussing topics surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) and SOGI data collection. Participants were asked about the fire service's view on sexual and gender minorities (SGMs), the changing fire service culture from Baby Boomers and Generation X to Millennials and Generation Z regarding SOGI, and their views on the feasibility of SOGI data collection within the fire service. Analysis identified five themes: Personal Identity, Attitudes toward SOGI and SGMs, SOGI Data Collection, Outcomes of SOGI Data Collection, and Evolution of Ideology. Mx. Catrillo's findings indicated that SOGI data collection across the fire service would be feasible. During interviews, participants were shown a sample of what SOGI data collection could look like in future surveys and were asked to give suggestions about clarity and dissemination. To read more about this work, please see the white paper.

Collaborations on DEI Readiness in the Fire and Rescue Service

Metro Chiefs

The FIRST Center presented on DEI at the 2021 Metro Chiefs Conference. The session included analysis of findings from a pre-conference assessment. This survey measured the chiefs' perceptions of their departments' climate for inclusion and readiness to change. It collected information on what DEI competencies the chiefs already possessed, what competencies they wished they had, specific concerns and fears they had, as well as what resources they felt they would need to enact DEI change. A draft DEI white paper will be presented at the Metro Chiefs Conference in May of 2022.

Virginia Fire Equity and Diversity Conference

For the last forty years, the Virginia Department of Fire Programs has been dedicated to the discussion of DEI in the fire and rescue service. After hosting and co-hosting three EEO Symposiums to raise awareness for diversity, human relations, and equal opportunity issues, the VDFP created a standard council (EEO/AA) of Fire Service EEO Advisors in April of 1991. This council is committed to developing trainings on cultural diversity, among other topics, for fire and emergency services in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 2021, as the fire service evolves with new generations of membership, the focus of the Virginia Fire Equity & Diversity Conference is to "achieve the next level through leadership inclusion and education."

FIRST presented "Diversity + Equity = Inclusion: Perspectives from the Field" at the 2021 conference, allowing fire and rescue departments to share resource gaps regarding DEI.


The US fire and rescue service has expressed readiness to change, but is currently lacking critical resources to make the changes it envisions. To address this gap, FIRST is partnering with the Metro Chiefs through a FEMA AFG FP&S grant to develop "DEI FIRE"--a toolkit with education, assessment, and training materials to help the fire and rescue service achieve its vision of DEI. Through the creation of a DEI dictionary, a common language will emerge, enabling the fire service to have broad and well-informed discussions about DEI-related topics. The toolkit will include assessments of DEI receptivity in fire and rescue departments and fire service organizations using validated tools. In response to the data collected, best practices, trainings, and model policies for DEI will be created. This toolkit will be made available through an online clearinghouse to centralize information, and it will be made freely available to all fire and rescue departments across the nation. This will ensure the recruitment, retention, and advancement of a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive industry.

Join Us

The FIRST Center is committed to making this journey with all interested organizations. If you are interested in lending your voice to what is needed and helping us chart the path forward, please share your thoughts through this survey.


If you would like to request assistance with your DEI journey, please Contact Us here.