LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The Los Angeles Fire Department has announced its first-ever diversity, equity and inclusion bureau, in an effort to help change a department culture historically notorious for bullying firefighters based on gender and race.
Its DEI bureau will consist of three members when it officially launches in January. It will be led by Deputy Chief Stephan Gutierrez, serving as Chief Equity Officer. The launch comes around the one-year mark since its first ever female fire chief, Kristin Crowley, was appointed.
"By creating this new bureau, we actually have the staff to do the work when it comes to doing a deep dive in regard to how we do business, and how we take care of each other in the fire stations and in the work environment," Crowley said.
The plan is to do so by adding training and enforcing accountability.
Calls for accountability have echoed for years. In 2021, women's advocacy groups, including the Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service, pushed for changes at the highest level. At the time, LAWFS president Kris Larson said there had been an abject failure of leadership to address the rampant racism and sexism within the department.
Leadership changed with Crowley's appointment, and Larson supports the new DEI initiative. As the department changes, outgoing Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti acknowledges the work ahead. He's confident his successor, mayor-elect Karen Bass, shares the same vision.
"We have a lot to make up for in order for us to meet our goals of trying to double the number of women that are in our department," Garcetti said. "Latino firefighters have (also) faced discrimination, (as have) gay and lesbian LGBTQ firefighters, who have often felt unwelcome or having to live in the shadows."
Chief Crowley is an out lesbian.
"It took me a couple of years," said Crowley, regarding her experience sharing her sexuality with colleagues. "I wasn't sure. This is when I was new on the job. I was very mindful about my personal life."
She didn't feel the same level of hostility fellow firefighters have described, but she is in the minority. An LAFD-wide survey asked about the lived experiences of people who work within the department. The majority of the feedback was negative.
"So that in itself, that study, was the big catalyst we needed to make sure we paid attention to what our members' lived experiences were and then create the strategies moving forward of, well how can we make this better," Crowley said.
The DEI bureau will launch in phases. Whereas there will be three people in the bureau the first year, the LAFD says it has plans to expand it to eight people the following fiscal year.