Atlanta’s fire department reaching out to LGBT community

Interim Fire Chief Joel Baker discusses upcoming improvements with Lieutenant Chatman as he plans on enhancing the Atlanta Fire Rescue department. PHOTO BY JADE JOHNSON | THE SIGNAL



In the wake of Chief Kelvin Cochran’s recent dismissal for the distribution of his Christian self-help book, Interim Fire Chief Joel Baker, a Georgia State alum, and his executive staff are finding ways to strengthen the fire department’s relationship with the LGBT community.

Deputy Chief Randall Slaughter of the fire department’s Office of Field Operations said he does not feel the department has an issue with cultural awareness but is keeping an eye out for issues in regards to Cochran’s actions.

“We’ve always been very open, transparent and approachable with all of the community. In light of what has happened, Chief Baker has put forth a new initiative to engage the LGBT community,” he said.

However Baker said he didn’t want the former chief’s behavior to represent the entire organization, although he sees plenty of room for improvement.

“We have not done enough to let people know that we are a welcoming community for employment. At the end of the day those firefighters out there with boots on the ground; they don’t care if you’re black, white, gay, straight, lesbian, hispanic or Asian,” he said. “When that alarm bell rings, can you pull the fire hose? Can you start the IV? Can you drive the fire truck? … Can you do the job of a firefighter? That’s all that matters at the end of the day.”

Baker also said his intentions are to extend further than LGBT community and he wants the Atlanta Fire Rescue Department to be the most welcoming organization it can be.

“At the beginning of the day we need to let the members of this very diverse community know that we can help you do your job without coming to work fearing sexism, racism and other types of -isms. We want to make sure our members know that we are an -ism-free organization,” he said.

In efforts to engage LGBT communities around Atlanta, Baker said he has teamed up with Robin Shahar, Mayor Reed’s LGBT community liaison.

“We’re getting a lot of support from the mayor’s office. It’s a big deal that Mayor Reed has assigned LGBT Liaison Robin Shahar to work with us … for her to reach out and make sure we have everything we need; that’s big,” he said.

Shahar said she looks forward to further collaborating with Baker in the pursuit of diversifying the workplace and the city.

“I’m excited to work with Chief Baker because his commitment to having an -ism-free department is so exciting,” she said.

Shahar also said the initiative is still in the preliminary stages but she and Baker are gathering facts and listening to the people.

“Mayor Reed is sincerely committed to a workforce where discrimination does not exist. He is committed to nondiscrimination across the city,” she said. “I work with him as his advisor on

LGBT matters and without fail, when I talk to him about issues that come up, his position is always that we need to take immediate steps to ensure these environments are free from discrimination.”

The department also has support to establish a community outreach from Stephen Borders of the International Association of Firefighters and Terrance Simon, President of the Atlanta Progressive Firefighter Organization, according to Baker.

Baker said the fire department also plans to consult the Atlanta Police Department for help developing a LGBT liaison.

“They have a very proactive LGBT liaison community outreach, so we’ll seek guidance from them regarding what approach to take,” he said.

Baker also said he and Shahar had not yet reached out to student LGBT organizations because they are first trying to solidify a direction in which they are going.

However, Baker said he is open to suggestions and cooperation from all members of the Atlanta community.

“If they [members of the LGBT community] ever have any questions, comments or concerns they should feel free to reach out to me. I want them to feel free to send me an email or contact the Fire Department. I along with my executive staff [are] willing to go to any LGBT community to talk about strategies and plans to enhance our relationships and make the Fire Department staff as accessible as possible,” he said.

Jamaury Crosby, a member of Georgia State’s Alliance for Sexual and Gender Diversity organization, said he is thrilled that the new chief is taking the time to engage the LGBT community.

“We’re looking forward to working with [Chief Baker] because he seems to have a genuine interest in this and that gets us excited,” he said.

Slaughter said the fire department intends to put a fire truck in the next Pride Festival parade and said he urges LGBT organizations to contact the department with future plans and ideas.
Baker said he looks forward the festival and intends to be there riding along in support of the men and women of the department. He said this includes anyone struggling with cultural adversity.

“I will be on that truck with them. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care,” Baker said.

He also said he does not expect the community outreach efforts to face much resistance.

“If I’m facing any opposition, I don’t know about it. I’m not naive to think that everyone is blowing up balloons and shooting fireworks and saying ‘hip hip hooray,’ but so far I’ve received a lot of positive feedback,” he said.

For more on Cochran’s dismissal, visit [Key search words: Atlanta Fire Department, chief, fired]