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Calgary fire chief says culture change won’t happen overnight

Calgary Fire Chief Steve Dongworth said paramilitary and military cultures were developed over decades and it doesn’t change overnight.

“Those cultures are traditionally resistant to change,” he said Wednesday during an update to Calgary’s Community and Protective Services committee.

“They also don’t extend trust to those seen as being from outside of that culture.”

Dongworth was there to update committee members and the public on work they’d undertaken after a CBC story on racist incidents in Calgary fire halls.

“We are working hard to uncover and address it wherever we can,” Dongworth said.

The Chief said they set out in 2015 with a five-year plan to address diversity and inclusion. Last year, they began work on an updated plan that would advance them for the next five years.

As a part of that plan, Chief Dongworth said they’d be setting expectations for the Calgary Fire Department on having a respectful workplace.

“We’ve made it clear there will be zero tolerance,” Dongworth told the committee.

They also want to hold members accountable. Dongworth said that while they’ve fired five members for misconduct over the past decade, others haven’t been dismissed. He said those members have still been held accountable for their actions.

‘Raising competence’

Dongworth said they needed to raise the brigade’s competence in diversity and inclusion. They need to be exposed to different cultures, lifestyles and diversity in the community.

To do that, he said they need to improve employee engagement.

“But particularly important to us has been to engage racialized and marginalized members of diverse groups within our organization, as well as other key stakeholders,” he said.

One of the areas they’re working toward this year is reviewing the entire organization and examining the different milestones in each members’ career.

“Do they work as well for racialized members? Do they work as well for our female members, when perhaps they’re pregnant? We have to look at all of those systems, and make sure that all of them are working for all of our employees if we want to be a truly inclusive organization,” he said.

That work will continue through this year. Dongworth said they would “double down” on their work thus far.