Pair of Montreal's black firefighters battle diversity problem
The City of Montreal has faced criticism for not hiring enough visible minorities – and while that has changed considerably in many areas of the civil service, it’s still rare to see a person of colour in a firefighters’ uniform.
Of roughly 2,400 active firefighters now working for the City of Montreal, only nine are black.
That, hopefully, is about to change. Two black firefighters have teamed up to battle the department's diversity problem, by reaching out to the black community.
Alberto Syllion is one of those firefighters. Born in Haiti, he joined Montreal's fire department eight years ago.
“People are not used to seeing black firefighters. Sometimes I see them pulling out their camera phones and take pictures of me on a call. I find that really funny, like a rock star or something,” said Syllion.
Being the only firefighter in Montreal North who can also speak Creole has been proven to have its advantages, he said.
“Yes, it helps and that's why I chose that station in St- Michel,” he said. “I wanted to work there to be in the Haitian community… I’m the only one.”
Syllion is now working alongside Capt. David Shelton, one of the first black firefighters in the province.
“They didn’t know of any (black) firefighters in Quebec before me,” said Shelton, who is originally from Detroit and was hired in 1992 by what was then the City of Pointe-Claire's fire department.
“It took me a couple of years to win a spot on the first department but now I'm very happy,” he said.
Together the two men are now developing a new diversity program to attract minorities.
“(We want) to show them that this is a job that they can do if they really want to,” said Syllion.
“For women, for visible minorities, ethnic minorities, all these under-represented groups,” added Shelton.
Diversity is beginning to take shape in the department. There are about 10 new black recruits now training for spots in Montreal's fire department, and more are entering the three fire academies across Quebec.
“It has been slow,” said Syllion.