DEI training halted for Washington firefighters, medics, after complaints of racial, gender bias

A diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training for Washington state firefighters and medics was recently suspended after criticism from employees.

The training, titled “Stronger Together: An…

A diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training for Washington state firefighters and medics was recently suspended after criticism from employees.

The training, titled “Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-racism and gender inclusion,” was meant to educate 3,500 King County firefighters and medics on anti-racism and gender inclusivity.

Seattle radio host Jason Rantz reported “critics, including several King County firefighters, challenged the training’s political undertones and its potential infringement on personal beliefs, particularly regarding gender identity.”

The training instructed white firefighters and medics to check their racist tendencies, according to Fox News.

“It suggested White staff members inherently harbored ‘racist or sexist views’ and had caused ‘racial harm at some point,’” Rantz said regarding the training, adding the white trainees were even told they cannot be “not racist.”

Rantz reports the trainees were schooled in using preferred pronouns and were told gender is a social construct that is only “assigned” at birth and can change over time. “When asked how many genders there are in a multiple choice test question, the answer ‘2’ is incorrect,” Rantz writes. 

After several firefighters expressed annoyance and offense, Renton Fire Chief Steve Heitman announced a pause to the training in an email.  

“Following feedback from numerous members expressing concerns about the test, and after consultations with several fire chiefs who echoed these concerns from their respective teams, we collectively decided to suspend this training through the SKCFTC (South King County Fire Training Consortium),” Heitman wrote in the email obtained by Rantz.  

Heitman said while he “wholeheartedly” endorses DEI training, he’s concerned with the possibility some of the questions violated staff members’ personal beliefs.

“What troubles me are certain test questions that might compel members to compromise their personal beliefs or values in order to pass, a requisite for EMT recertification,” Heitman said according to Fox News. “This potential conflict may place members in the difficult positions of choosing between their deeply held convictions and their professional roles as firefighters/EMTs.”

Days later, the chief sent a follow-up email to staff members.

According to the email, which was shared with the Jason Rantz Show, Heitman said he and other chiefs met to discuss the training. He wrote “there was unanimous support from the Chiefs for training aimed at diversity and inclusion and its importance to what we do.” He said they did not believe the DEI training was meant to be “divisive” but “may need some retooling to be more inclusive.”

Heitman said he would “revisit some of the test questions” and “the idea of a pass/fail test and/or the use of an attestation form that you have received the training.”

The timeline for the revamping of the training is unclear. A Public Health – Seattle & King County spokesperson said it shouldn’t “impact the ability to meet the deadline of the state requirements,” according to 770 KTTH.  

A firefighter for the area, who wished to remain anonymous in fear of retaliation from the department, believes the training isn’t necessary at all.  

“We’ve never had issues or problems providing care to people of different backgrounds in emergency scenarios. If you call 911, everyone gets the same care based on the given reason they called,” he explained.

The training features the work of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Brené Brown and Victor Madrigal-Borloz.