You may not see them but they are there. Of the nearly 3,100 Toronto Fire staff with the City of Toronto, close to 150 are Black, of which about 70 are African-Canadian woman.
Black fire service personnel represent less than five per cent of the total number of firefighters in the city.
“We could be doing better, but you have to also remember that this city has the highest number of Black and other visible minority firefighters when compared to other Canadian cities,” said Barbadian-born district chief, Ron Barrow. “We have done quite a lot in terms of having a number of equity initiatives that are supported by the city to attract more visible minorities to our organization. You may not see them, but there are there in areas such as communications and other fields.
“I have done my best to be out there in the community so that I am seen and I am always encouraging the community for support in terms of promoting our organization as a place that visible minorities should consider when they are looking for work. We recruit every two years and there are sustainable opportunities in our service.”
Barrow, who migrated to Canada with his family age at two, joined the Fire Service 26 years ago.
“I do not consider myself a trailblazer because there were a few Blacks in the organization when I joined,” said Barrow, who is responsible for recruitment and community outreach. “My district chief was Black and I was placed under a firefighter that was also Black. I love this job and I have had an absolutely fulfilling career.”
Barrow said new recruits can earn close to $55,000 and about $78,000 after four years on the job.
The Toronto Fire Service was among approximately 50 exhibitors at the 12th annual job fair organized by councillors Michael Thompson and Glenn De Baeremaeker at Scarborough Civic Centre last Friday.
“When I was working in government, people would approach me saying they need jobs,” said Thompson, who has been the Scarborough Centre councillor for the past nine years. “We started with about 20 exhibitors and we have grown over the years. Each year, nearly 400 people are hired as a result of this fair and people get good jobs.
“There are people who have been hired and have been sent to foreign countries to work.
“In the second year, a gentleman approached me, saying he was laid off and needed a job. He had experience in the financial sector so we took him to the Brick which had a booth here and he was hired.
“Just recently, while walking through Thomson Park on Canada Day, a lady with two children ran up to me telling me I had saved her life. She then proceeded to remind me that the gentleman who got the job at the Brick was her husband and they were on the verge of separating because they were in financial straits.
“That’s the reason why we are doing this…I urge people out there who are without jobs to be positive and stay focused.”
Thompson encouraged the unemployed to use what they may consider menial work as a stepping stone to get their dream jobs.
“If I didn’t have a job and someone offered me a broom that allowed me to make money, I will take it and sweep,” he said. “I will do whatever that broom required me to do. You can’t be too proud about what you do because it’s not simply about your station. It’s about where you are going and it’s about climbing the ladder and taking a step.”
De Baeremaeker, who represents the other half of Scarborough Centre, joined forces with Thompson in 2003.
“I wanted to do something similar to what Mike was doing when I became a councillor, but Mike instantly suggested we should do it together because we would get more employers and we would create an environment where people would be hired by the hundreds at these job fairs,” said Baeremaeker. “He was right.”
Over the years, the councillors have pooled their office budgets to stage the job fair. However, as of next year, the city will take over as the event’s host.
“With our office budgets shrinking, a motion was moved to get the city to take over,” said Thompson. “It costs close to $13,000 to put on this event.”
Other co-sponsors this year included the Scarborough Mirror newspaper and the Progress Career Planning Institute (PCPI).
“This day is about you,” PCPI president Silma Roddau told the hundreds of job seekers. “Make the most of it.”
City of Toronto general manager Heather MacVicar said the Working as One report, endorsed by city council last month, will strengthen workforce development and provide practical approaches to address the challenges facing employers and people seeking jobs.
The strategy was devised in response to serious challenges facing Toronto’s employers and job seekers as a result of the recent recession and ongoing economic uncertainty.
“It’s a workforce development strategy, matching job seekers with employers who are looking for talent in our city,” said MacVicar. “It’s about this city taking leadership, being proactive, getting out in front and taking the message to our employees even more fully than we have to date.
“I am extremely committed to this because I think it’s important. The city wants you to know there is a place for you. We want communities to thrive and be vibrant and everyone to prosper.”
George Brown College recent graduate, Raphael Romain, was among the hundreds of job seekers at the six-hour fair. He was enrolled in the two-year heating, refrigeration and air-conditioning technician program.
“I am looking to get my foot in the door with a company, get some more practical experience and learn more about the industry,” he said.
Other exhibitors included Scarborough-based Ellesmere Medical Health Care that is hiring registered, registered practical and licensed practical nurses, fitness coordinators and human resources personnel.
By RON FANFAIR