Thursday, 2 Jul 2020

Mental health, diversity among focuses of Edmonton’s new fire chief

Edmonton’s new fire chief said two of his main focuses as he takes over the reins of the city’s fire department will be the mental health and wellness of staff, as well as fostering diversity within the service.

Joe Zatylny was announced as the new chief of Edmonton Fire Rescue Services in May. He takes over from outgoing fire chief Ken Block, who announced his resignation in December.

Zatylny grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan, where he started his career in the fire service. He moved to Calgary where he’s spent the last 25 years with the Calgary Fire Department, 10 of which were in leadership roles.

“As someone who has spent a career in other cities, I can tell you that the reputation of Edmonton’s fire service is an exceptional one, not just in Edmonton, not just in North America, but around the world,” Zatylny said Friday morning.

“It’s easy to see what sustains that reputation. From dispatch to administration, to training to the teams that get on the truck and every task in between, this department is made up of compassionate, caring and dedicate people supporting excellence across the organization.”

Mental wellness, diversity among key focus areas

As he takes over as chief, Zatylny said he recognizes the responsibility he has to leverage that reputation and continue moving it forward to “build on the legacy I have inherited.”

While ensuring the safety of the public and the members of EFRS is a high priority, Zatylny said one his main focuses will be on the mental health and well-being of staff and firefighters.

“I will be applying additional focus to the mental health and wellness of everyone in EFRS. 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,” he said.

“We cannot call ourselves leaders if we are not actively and passionately addressing this component of wellness and personal safety. I strongly believe that supporting the mental health of every member of this service is the job of every single person within it.”

Part of this work will include education for members, as well as removing the stigma around mental health issues.

Another area of focus will be ensuring the fire service represents the community it serves, Zatylny said, and that starts at the recruitment stage.

“This is a great fire service, but in Edmonton we need to make strides in the diversity of our membership and the inclusion of the voices and faces that have traditionally been absent from our service,” he said.

“I firmly believe that in order for a community to connect to the critically 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.

“These are dynamic and often uncertain days and I’m happy to report that the team at EFRS is up for that challenge.”

Career move came with ‘awkward’ station visits

Zatylny’s career move comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s an unusual time for many, he said the transition was as smooth as could have been expected, complete with some awkward encounters.

“The most awkward station visits I could expect,” he said with a laugh, pointing to the interesting exchanges where hand shakes used to be the norm.

“Everybody is minding their personal distance and making sure that we’re doing our best to manage the pandemic. Outside of that awkward, I think everybody understands that this is a time that we need to pay attention to the greater good and there will be more formalities later on.”

Why Edmonton?

Zatylny said it was a “distinct honour” to be asked to lead Edmonton’s fire department. When asked why the move to Edmonton, he said a number of factors played a role.

“This is a world class multicultural city with a world class department,” he said. “The pathways, the networks, the people, are something I find I connect with. In the short time I’ve been here permanently I’ve really come to realize what a great community this is.”

And not just a great community, a great hockey community.

“On a personal note, I guess I can say ‘Let’s go Oilers!’”

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