KTTH OPINION

Rantz: DEI training suspended for compromising King County firefighters’ beliefs

Feb 13, 2024, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:13 pm

Image: These are portions of a presentation titled "Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-raci...

These are portions of a presentation titled "Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-racism and gender inclusion" presented to King County firefighters seen in one image. (Image obtained by The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH)

(Image obtained by The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH)

Politically charged Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) training hit a roadblock, after forcing firefighters and staff to choose between their deeply held beliefs and mandated certification.

The program, criticized for its contentious nature, aimed at educating 3,500 King County firefighters and medics on anti-racism and gender inclusivity, drawing on teachings from Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, Brené Brown, and Victor Madrigal-Borloz. This initiative was a response to a state directive requiring implicit bias and healthcare disparity training for healthcare workers.

Critics, including several King County firefighters, challenged the training’s political undertones and its potential infringement on personal beliefs, particularly regarding gender identity. The training’s failure could jeopardize participants’ EMT certifications, demanding acknowledgment of endless genders and an inherent racial bias among white staff.

Inside the offensive anti-racist DEI training

The training, titled “Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-racism and gender inclusion,” aimed to instill empathy, awareness, and dignity in patient care, yet its execution ignited pushback. It suggested white staff members inherently harbored “racist or sexist views” and had caused “racial harm at some point.” They were even told that they “cannot be ‘not racist.'”

The training warns some staff may feel “denial” or “shame” for the racial harm they caused. It’s talking specifically at white people.

“It is important for white people to understand the distinction between being publicly shamed for a racist act vs. feeling internalized shame while being held accountable for racism,” one slide tells staff.

In between slides and quizzes, staff watched videos explaining the material.

Based on Kendi’s work, the video training for anti-racism isn’t especially deep or complex. It explained that “racism is substantiated by racist ideas.” The training tells staff they should promote anti-racism, defined as “ideas and policies that produce and sustain racial equity among racial groups.”

White staffers are supposed to hold themselves accountable for being racist. They’re told to “read, watch TV shows, and listen to podcasts by people of color” as a way to broaden their views. Non-white staff are not offered any meaningful suggestions because the worldview expressed in the training depicts them as victims of oppression.

Inside the silly gender inclusion DEI training

The training also centers around “gender inclusion” where firefighters and medics must pretend that “gender is assigned at birth.” They present Baseball Hall of Famer Ken Griffey Jr. as an example of someone who was “assigned male at birth.”

The training presents gender as a social construct. It’s also fluid, with a “cisgender man” who says “they” sometimes “feel like a woman.” The staff is told to practice saying their name and personal pronouns when introducing themselves. If they do not support or offer “gender-affirming care,” they’re told they’re transphobic. That’s also the case, they’re trained, if they do not believe a biological man can be a woman.

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Firefighters and medics are even told that one’s gender (and race) “will change over time.” When asked how many genders there are in a multiple choice test question, the answer “2” is incorrect.

Image: This is a portion of a presentation titled "Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-racism and gender inclusion" presented to King County firefighters.

This is a portion of a presentation titled “Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-racism and gender inclusion” presented to King County firefighters. (Image obtained by The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH)

Firefighters were annoyed, offended with DEI push

Several firefighters said they were annoyed and/or offended. It prompted Renton Fire Chief Steve Heitman to pause the training.

“Following feedback from numerous members expressing concerns about the test, and after consultations with several fire chiefs who echoed these concerns from their respective teams, we collectively decided to suspend this training through the SKCFTC (South King County Fire Training Consortium),” Heitman wrote in an email forwarded to the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH.

A King County firefighter who contacted the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH derided the training as unnecessary. He noted that “King County has been doing this ‘anti-racist’ crap long before Ibram X Kendi came around.”

“We’ve never had issues or problems providing care to people of different backgrounds in emergency scenarios, if you call 911 everyone gets the same care based on the given reason they called,” he explained.

The firefighter, who asked for anonymity because he believes the department to be “punitive” against those who speak out, says he’s concerned that DEI has meant unqualified people are becoming firefighters and EMTs. He complains “DEI is replacing standards with visual differences in people.” He said the department should be staffed based on merit.

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The anti-racist equity training gets paused

Chief Heitman said he “wholeheartedly” endorses DEI training. But he also said he was bothered that some test questions could force staff to violate their own personal beliefs. If they do not pass, their certification may be in jeopardy.

“What troubles me are certain test questions that might compel members to compromise their personal beliefs or values in order to pass, a requisite for EMT recertification. This potential conflict may place members in the difficult positions of choosing between their deeply held convictions and their professional roles as firefighters/EMTs.”

He told staff to “please pause on completing this training.” County firefighters and medics did just that. But is their certification now on the line?

Image: This is a portion of a presentation titled "Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-racism and gender inclusion" presented to King County firefighters.

This is a portion of a presentation titled “Stronger Together: An introduction to anti-racism and gender inclusion” presented to King County firefighters. (Image obtained by The Jason Rantz Show on AM 770 KTTH)

The next steps in DEI training

Days later, the chief sent a follow-up email to staff.

According to the email, which was shared with the Jason Rantz Show on KTTH, Heitman said he and other chiefs met to discuss the training. He said “there was unanimous support from the Chiefs for training aimed at diversity and inclusion and its importance to what we do.” He said they did not believe the DEI training was meant to be “divisive” but “may need some retooling to be more inclusive.”

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Heitman vowed to offer better context as to why staff must take the DEI training. He said he would “revisit some of the test questions” and “the idea of a pass/fail test and/or the use of an attestation form that you have received the training.”

The timeline for this work is unclear. Heitman did not respond to requests for comment. A Public Health – Seattle & King County spokesperson downplayed the pause, but said it would be sorted out to meet state requirements.

“Broadly speaking, it’s not uncommon to update training materials to ensure that objectives and goals are being achieved,” the spokesperson said. “We don’t expect any updates to these materials to impact the ability to meet the deadline of the state requirements.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show on weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here. Follow Jason on X, formerly known as TwitterInstagram, and  Facebook.

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Rantz: DEI training suspended for compromising King County firefighters’ beliefs