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FIRE 20/20's monthly eNewsletter delivers inspiring articles, thought-provoking interviews and useful tools for Fire/EMS personnel, and those considering a career in the fire service. Topics are oriented around diversity recruitment and retention.

 

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An Interview With Larry Sagen

09-16-10 -- Larry Sagen is the founder and Executive Director of FIRE 20/20. Since 2005, he has been working to help fire and emergency services departments around the United States better connect with their multicultural communities. Below are excerpts from a recent conversation with Larry. Click here to read Larry's bio.


What drives your commitment to Fire/EMS, considering that you are not a firefighter and don't have family members who are firefighters?


"I treasure good service and working with people who have a high service ethic. This combined with my background and experience in social work and marketing shaped my perspective, and helped me to see some unique ways to help the fire service create new opportunities to address diversity recruitment, better serve all of their customers, and increase safety."


How has your background and experience impacted the way you approach your role at FIRE 20/20?


"In my education and experience as a social worker, I was taught to look at problems using systems thinking. A system—whether it’s the fire service, a specific fire department or our family—is made up of component parts. When there are problems, a systems thinking approach requires understanding how each part relates to each other and to the whole. The goal is to get to root causes rather than seek simple cause and effect solutions that tend to put band aids on symptoms."


Can you provide an example?


"Let me use the example of testing to explain a systems thinking approach. Testing is very important and a real issue. We have to be fair and we can’t lower standards. Some tests are better than others. Some have more adverse impact. Some have been around for a long time and are commonly accepted. But systems thinking opens our exploration and has us consider what’s happening to potential recruits before they ever come in to test. Likewise, it has us follow recruits after they’re hired. Is the environment welcoming and inclusive? Are there unwritten rules that are different from the written rules? Are job expectations in alignment with the actual job? Are we testing people to deal with problems today and ten years out, or are we testing people to be firefighters of the past?


"My social work background gave me experience in community organizing—bringing different people together to identify their commonalities and work for a common good. This was perfect training for both recruitment and prevention. Effective community organizing empowers and ensures stakeholders have ownership in the solutions."


What do you most enjoy about what your job?


"I have always loved marketing and sales. Nothing is more exciting for me than to share new products and services that solve social problems. Understanding customers’ needs and providing meaningful and measurable solutions is what marketing and sales are all about. For me, these skills have direct application to recruitment and community-based prevention.”


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