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Whitby Fire Department focused on becoming more diverse

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WATCH: Whitby Fire and Emergency Service is looking to address the lack of diversity. Currently, the vast majority of staff members are white men and the intention is to make the department more representative of the community it serves. Aaron Streck reports. – Feb 23, 2021

The fire chief in Whitby, Ont., says he’s looking to address the lack of diversity in the service.

Currently, the vast majority of staff members are white men and the intention is to make the department more representative of the community it serves.

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“This job wasn’t on my radar for most of my life,” said Joel Linton, Whitby firefighter.

Linton has been a firefighter in Whitby for more than three years. The 30-year-old is the first and only Black member of the service.

“It’s not something I notice on my day-to-day coming to work. I don’t feel like I’m treated differently, I’m not made to feel like an outlier or an outsider,” said Linton.

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Born and raised in Jamaica, Linton moved to Canada when he was 13. He was pursuing a career in medicine or psychology before a friend got him interested in becoming a firefighter.

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“My story fits in with the mold of someone who didn’t realize this was an option, didn’t know anything about the job and hadn’t considered it,” said Linton.

Now Linton is part of a diversity committee with Whitby Fire. His role is to help address a staggering stat: Whitby currently has 124 firefighters, all but nine of which are white men.

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“We want to make sure the diversity we have in our department reflects the diversity in our community and by doing that I think we are going to be able to better connect with them,” said Chief Dave Speed, Whitby Fire and Emergency Services.

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Jill McKeown was the forth female firefighter hired in Whitby. She works on the same squad with Linton.

“Adding diversity to any job or any career is a great thing, diverse backgrounds bring different perspectives, they bring different opinions and just different ways at looking at things,” said McKeown.

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Whitby’s Fire department isn’t alone when it comes to a lack of diversity. Over the years, the issue has been raised in departments across Canada. One way they’re looking to bolster inclusivity, is partnering with the Durham District School Board to speak to students about pursuing careers in firefighting.

“Instead of having one per cent of the applicants belong to the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community, we want to have in the next few years 10 per cent of the applicants, 20 per cent, so naturally we’re hiring the best people and people in the BIPOC community are part of the best group,” said Speed.

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“There has to be structural and systemic change,” said Lance T. McCready an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto.

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McCready says the education side and working with colleges to bring in more diverse students is just part of it.

“Especially when it comes to making a particular kind of change and improve the diversity, I feel the best way to do that is to really take a more targeted approach,” said McCready.

As for Linton, he says he would like to see more diversity in the department but he also knows it’s not going to happen overnight.

“We can certainly benefit from having people who come from different backgrounds,” said Linton.