Serving the Whole Community: Including People of Different Faiths
December 19, 2023
Practical tips for diversity, equity, and inclusion in your community
The winter holidays are front and center this month! Your department might have hosted a holiday party, made space for volunteers to be with their families for celebrations, or educated the community about holiday decoration safety. You can take this spirit into the full year to accommodate the religious beliefs and faith backgrounds of all residents in your recruitment & retention and community education initiatives.
For Recruitment and Retention
- Keep the lines of communication open. Most people are happy to share more information about their religious and other cultural practices and traditions, and how that might impact them on the job. Clearly communicate that you’re open to hearing about other beliefs and respect other points of view, and encourage everyone in the department to do the same. Allow opportunities for discussion and a clear path for raising any issues that come up. At the same time, if someone indicates they don’t want to talk about their faith, make sure to respect their request.
- Provide training opportunities. When we know better, we do better. Ask local faith leaders to provide information that pertains to volunteer first responders and protecting community members. Look for free and low-cost information and training online and share with your department members.
- Allow space for religious expression – literally and figuratively. Consider having a designated quiet space in the station for prayer, meditation, or reflection. In addition, provide opportunities for individuals to express their faith figuratively – whether saying grace before a meal, certain clothing or hairstyles (as long as they meet safety regulations), or finding ways for people to volunteer who may have restrictions on certain activities.
For Community Education
- Learn about specific customs and beliefs represented in your community. Find out about the demographics of your community. Are there religions or cultural backgrounds represented in the community but not on your department? Look for opportunities to connect with those individuals through community groups and places of worship. Invite representatives from that group to speak with your department and provide information on specific fire and life safety risks for their group.
- Consider different cultural and holiday traditions and how they impact life and fire safety. Many religious observances include candles in their practice, which creates a fire hazard. In addition, certain traditional meals involve cooking techniques that increase the risk of cooking fires. Keep an eye on yearly holidays and observances that affect your community, and plan your fire and life safety outreach in advance.
- Use existing resources. In addition to the resources linked above, the Department of Homeland Security Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships provides training, articles, and information on working with community groups – both religious and secular – to keep the whole community safe. They also have information on protecting houses of worship from man-made and natural disasters. Find out more at www.dhs.gov/faith.