Elise Stolte: Women, Black and Indigenous firefighters face a rough ride at Edmonton fire department

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“(Examples of racism and misogyny are) right up through the chain. I don’t think anyone has gotten into trouble for it ever,” said one firefighter still employed with the fire service:

This is the context in which Zatylny, a former deputy fire chief in Calgary, came north to make diversity, inclusion and mental health a priority. He started on June 1 and launched a review of the recruitment process.

At the moment, fewer than one per cent of the front line firefighters in Edmonton are women. Fewer than seven per cent identify as a visible minority, compared to 37 per cent of the community at large, this for a job that starts at $64,000 plus benefits and can crack six figures in five to 10 years.

Samuel Lodenquai, a Black firefighter who quit in frustration this past spring and moved to Vancouver Island, used to work in recruitment and training. He said people from Black, Indigenous and other minority communities are applying, as are women. But the statistics reflect how few make it through.

They can work hard and pass the physical test, he said, but if they aren’t hockey-loving, long-time Edmontonians, it’s tough to pass the station assessment and panel interview.

On the job, firefighters high up the chain of command have used a racial slur for members of the Indigenous community, he said. In Lodenquai’s experience, that got worse after the city’s mandatory Indigenous awareness training. The negative few who are setting the tone dug in their heels. “The guys are fighting to maintain it,” he said. “They’re more vocal.”

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