Equity & Diversity Conference

The Newport News Fire Department hosted the annual Virginia Fire Equity & Diversity Conference Oct. 15-18, 2017.  The theme was  "Achieving the Next Level: Leadership, Inclusion & Education."

VA Fire E&D Conference Logo

History of the Virginia Fire Equity and Diversity Conferences

In the 1980’s the Virginia Department of Fire Programs hosted and co-hosted three EEO Symposiums that increased the awareness of cultural diversity, improved human relations, and fostered equal opportunity and affirmative actions. As a result of these symposiums, they realized there was a serious need for more of this type of education and training throughout the Commonwealth. Therefore, in April 1991 the Virginia Fire Services Board in conjunction with the Department of Fire Programs, created a standard council (EEO/AA) comprised of Fire Service EEO Advisors who were strongly committed and very dedicated to accomplish the following established goals:

  • Advise the Virginia Fire Services Board on all matters affecting the nation’s fire and emergency services, especially those in Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • To develop, coordinate, and maintain the statewide training curriculums in subjects affecting equal employment opportunity, cultural diversity, and all laws and regulations in local, state, and federal government that affect the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  • Provide planning assistance to the host locality for the EEO/AA Symposiums.
On December 20, 1991 a national study was completed by the American University, under the guidance of Dr. Mitchell Hammer, entitled “Beyond the Symposium: Equal Opportunity and Cultural Diversity in the Fire Houses of Virginia.” The study measured the impact of the previous symposiums and their educational value. The outcome of the study predicted that the council was on the right track and the participants felt the Annual Symposiums should continue because Fire and Emergency Medical Services workers represented 48 of the 50 United States and other Countries, attended the symposiums. As a result of the study, Dr. Hammer recommended the Symposium concept be used as a model for educating Fire and EMS workers internationally.

The Symposiums became a success with support from the Fire Chief’s around the state of Virginia. A list of fire departments was established to host the conference, which proved how beneficial it was in providing education and training needed. Now Fire Chiefs across the state of Virginia work together to support the educational conferences. After leadership and council members of the original symposium, the name was eventually turned into the Virginia Fire and Emergency Services Equity and Diversity Association. The Association was able to partner with Fire Programs for their support and to provide assistance to the host locality for a meaningful and successful conference.

Currently, the host localities are making preparations for the upcoming Equity and Diversity conference to bring forth this much needed education and training. Today, more than ever, this education is desperately needed based on all the inequities that still exist in the workplace. We still hear and read in the news that employers make hiring decisions based on an applicant’s color, race, religion, sex or national origin. It is not uncommon to hear about an employer engaging in discrimination practices when recruiting job candidates, advertising for a job or applicant testing. Remember an employer can’t decide whether or not to promote a worker or fire one based on the employee’s color, race, religion sex or national origin. He or she can’t use this information when classifying or assigning workers, but it continues to happen. Employers can’t use an employee’s protective class to determine his or her pay, fringe benefits, retirement plans or disability leave. Also an employer can’t harass you if you fall under one of the protected classes, but it still happens!

Just recently, Fox News released their CEO based on the harassment of female workers in the workplace. While Fox was being investigated for the harassment charges, investigators also found that Fox was paying female journalist less than the male journalist. And let’s not forget discrimination against pregnant women is prohibited, since 1978 but it continues to happen. These are reasons why we need to continue to raise the awareness of our employees with Equity and Diversity educational conferences to change the way we think, which leads to changing the behavior.

We have been learning more and more about Equity and Diversity for 27 years as the workforce continues to evolve with new generations of personnel. This year we will focus on striving to “Achieve the next level of Leadership with Inclusion and Education”.