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The original item was published from 9/15/2021 10:35:00 AM to 9/15/2021 10:35:37 AM.

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City Manager's Office

Posted on: January 11, 2021

[ARCHIVED] Fire Department Consultant’s Report Delivered

Winston-Salem Fire Department logo and patch

NEWS RELEASE
City Manager’s Office
Jan. 11, 2020                                                       

The Winston-Salem Fire Department as an organization is not racist, but members of the department, both Black and white, believe that racism and discrimination occur through the actions of individuals within the department, according to a consultant’s report delivered today to the Winston-Salem City Council.

The 42-page report, by WPR Consulting LLC of Charlotte, makes 19 recommendations, including adopting and implementing a diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plan to provide measureable objectives for addressing the issues identified in the report.

The consultants will add to the report three appendices with training modules to help the department address some of the weaknesses the report identified. Those appendices are not included in the version sent to council members.

The report in its current form is posted on the city’s website, CityofWS.org.

The consultants interviewed more than 100 department personnel as well as city officials, the presidents of the Winston-Salem Urban League and the local NAACP, members of Hate Out of Winston and Omnibus and others.

The report depicts a fire department that has been proactive in recruiting and promoting minorities, but which is not representative of the population it serves: Counting white Hispanics, Winston-Salem’s population is 56.5 percent white and 34.3 percent Black, with 3 percent non-white Hispanic and 2.4 percent Asian. The Fire Department’s 369 personnel are 74 percent white, 21 percent Black, 3 percent Hispanic and 1 percent Asian.

Exacerbating this difference, the department recruits firefighters from Winston-Salem and the surrounding region, and many of the white firefighters from rural areas have not grown up with minorities. “WSFD has an issue with station culture and issues with unintentional bias because of racial/ethnic differences,” the report states. “Many firefighters are young and don’t live in the community. They haven’t had as much exposure or experience with people who don’t look like them,” and yet they have to work together 24 hours a day, 10 days a month.

To address this the report recommends that all fire station personnel receive intercultural training.

The consultants are providing the department with three training modules, or programs: A “Tough Talk Conversation Module,” a “DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) Training Module,” and a “Racism and Bias Conversation Module.”

Other recommendations include:

  • Creating more diversity in shifts at the fire stations.
  • Revisiting the city’s social media policy regarding statements made by individuals on their personal social media accounts to balance First Amendment rights with the impact on coworkers.
  • Increasing outreach to Winston-Salem’s increasingly diverse population to raise awareness of the department and its services.
  • Creating community forums to address topics of concern about the department among city residents.

“During our assessment process, we were impressed by the high level of support for firefighting as a career by fire personnel and the consistently good satisfaction with the work of the organization (WSFD)” the report states. “While the organization is doing well in many areas, any human enterprise can be improved, so this report focuses on the opportunities for improvement, especially around allegations of racism and discrimination in the fire department…. 

“Opinions and perspectives do not always represent fact, and it was beyond the scope of this process to verify each statement. However, it is important that the leaders of Winston-Salem and the Fire Department understand the range of perceptions in the community, and in the WSFD, and have a plan for addressing allegations that are corroborated and correcting misperceptions when they arise.”

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