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Edmonton's new fire chief to focus on mental health, diversity|BCI CANADA

The city’s new fire chief will focus on mental health, wellness and increasing diversity and inclusion among Edmonton Fire Rescue Services (EFRS).

Chief Joe Zatylny began his new role as the city’s 17th fire chief on June 1 after serving as a deputy fire chief in Calgary since 2015. He brings with him a diverse portfolio including the fire training academy, critical medical response support, technical teams support, 911 service management and hazardous materials response support.

Speaking to media on Friday, Zatylny said he plans to apply an additional focus to mental health and wellness for Edmonton firefighters.

“We call firefighters heroes and tend to associate them with their most heroic circumstances. As a result, it can be difficult to imagine when they suffer through depression, anxiety and other mental health injuries that accumulate through the toll of this profession,” Zatylny said.

“Most firefighters know a fellow member lost to us by an untimely death and each one of them entirely preventable. I certainly have. And we cannot call ourselves leaders if we are not actively and passionately addressing this component of wellness and personal safety. And I strongly believe that supporting the mental health of every member of this service is the job of every single person within.”

Zatylny said he will look to apply the “best practices” and things he’s learned around earlier access to treatment, reducing stigma around mental health and ensuring the service is taking a pro-active approach to education in order to support members.

Need for diversity

The new chief also said EFRS needs to make strides in the diversity of membership and the inclusion of voices and faces that have been traditionally absent.

“I firmly believe that in order for a community to connect to the critical protective service, they need to see themselves in it. They need to know they have a place in our ranks and that we have people who understand their lives,” Zatylny said.

From recruitment, to career and into retirement, we need more staff and firefighters outside of our traditional ranks. More importantly, we need to foster a culture that not only welcomes those people but allows them to succeed and inspire others in the same way as many of us have been inspired by members of this service.”

The service is currently assessing where areas of focus should be around diversity and inclusion.

“I’m going to be looking at our EFRS staff on where we can improve as well as our corporate partners and city colleagues so that we can understand it well and then focus on a direction that we need to take,” Zatylny said.

He said he has, in part, big shoes to fill with his new role taking over from previous chief Ken Block but will also be “making his own shoes” in leading the service in a new direction and building on previous work.

“I think a few of the key focus areas are definitely around mental health and wellness and supporting our firefighters, but primarily to ensure that our citizens and our firefighters stay safe,” Zatylny said. “That’s through best practices and the quality of service that we provide every day.”

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