Burning concerns

Mail from the chief

Recent media reporting and subsequent blogging comments have cast unfortunate aspersions over the Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency Services---its leadership and, as a result, all of its members ("Black firefighters enraged," Reality Bites by Tim Bousquet, March 11).

While Nova Scotia prides itself on its freedom of speech legacy and inroads made so early in our history by individuals such as Joseph Howe, it is unfortunate those freedoms have been skewed to the detriment of the public in favour of questionable practices like anonymous blogging.

While I have thick skin and have shouldered comments as necessary in my role as fire chief, I find it hard to sit back and watch those in the service of HRM Fire and Emergency Organization have their reputations tarnished.

I write to correct information presented as fact in your article.

The offensive remark noted in the article was reported on Friday, February 26. Before the day was over, the complaint was acknowledged in writing. We categorized the remark immediately as offensive and initiated a review. The member who reported the remark was responded to and assured that we would act without delay. Other staff, including our internal diversity and conflict resolution consultants, were advised of the incident and asked to help. Our review began immediately.

On Tuesday, March 2, I sent a notice to all the personnel of the station in question, advising them of our active review. At that time, I re-affirmed our commitment to a service free of harassment and which values the diversity of all our members. A meeting was held that night at the station to explain the incident to the members and reassure all persons that corrective actions were being pursued.

On Wednesday, March 3, staff from the HRM Organizational Development and Health Section led a training session at the station. This session focused on HRM's intolerance of disrespectful behaviour and harassment in the workplace, and included a review of our Workplace Rights Policy.

On Friday, March 5, I published a notice to all members of our fire service, informing our members of the incident and our commitment to them.

At this time, it seems unlikely that we will be able to determine who wrote the remark, or even where this clipboard came from. Our activities and commitment to a diverse service free of harassment continues. Our diversity training efforts are ongoing, from the new recruit to the seasoned veteran. Our members, from many diverse backgrounds, continue to work, volunteer and socialize together. Our differences only make us stronger.

Simply put, I will not tolerate racism within the ranks of my organization.

Were there incidents of racism reported in the fire and emergency service? Yes. Were they addressed? Yes. Is work on this issue ongoing? Yes.

I am committed to my team of professionals dedicated to the enhancement and preservation of the quality of life, property and environment through education, leadership and effective response to emergencies. The 380,000 residents of HRM are protected 24 hours a day, seven days a week by 1,129 career and volunteer firefighters. In 2007-08 alone, our organization responded to 11,820 emergency calls. They are also prepared to protect their community with emergency preparedness and give back through a number of organizations and charities including, of course, muscular dystrophy.

In the meantime, whenever there is a call, our Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency service personnel respond to their calls as a team. It is imperative not only for the safety of the public, but also for the safety of these professionals.

The service's guiding principles include trust, dedication, integrity, caring and diversity.

HRM is an employment equity employer and considers appropriate representation in the municipality's workforce during any recruitment campaigns. Therefore, applications from Aboriginal people, visible minorities, women and persons with disabilities are encouraged. And, as a significant employer for the region, we take claims of racism seriously. In all cases, quick and decisive action is taken to address individual incidents.

Pierre Berton said, "Racism is a refuge for the ignorant. It seeks to divide and to destroy. It is the enemy of freedom, and deserves to be met head-on and stamped out."

We will continue on that path in the fire and emergency services organization and throughout HRM to meet racism head-on and ensure it is stamped out in an attempt to see that such behaviour is neither repeated, nor allowed to spread.

This is my commitment to all of my members within the HRM Fire and Emergency Service and to the people whom those employees serve. Sincerely,

—William H. Mosher, Chief Director, Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency

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