The Challenges Associated with Providing Efficient and Effective Fire Service to Large Arab-American Populations and the Resources Required to Meet Them

Joseph Murray


This study examined the perceptions of firefighters employed by the City of Dearborn Fire Department regarding the challenges associated with providing service to a large Arab-American population. As a predominantly White, male, Euro-ethnic, and Christian fire department, it was expected that challenges existed in part due to the differences in culture and backgrounds of Dearborn’s firefighters and the Arab-American population. Once the challenges were identified, the study examined the potential resources, which if provided to firefighters, could lead to a more effective and efficient fire service.

The firefighters of the City of Dearborn Fire Department were identified as a potential sample because they service the highest percentage of the total population of Arab-Americans within the United States. Very few other cities have large Arab-American populations within the United States. While other cities within the United States, such as New York City, may have a larger total population of Arab-Americans, the City of Dearborn has Arab-Americans as the largest percentage of its total population.[1]

The study built upon the information obtained through the 2010 Fire 20/20 Multicultural Fire Department Study conducted nationally to determine the various challenges encountered by firefighters in the field when servicing a variety of different minority groups.[2] Although the study included 17 different minority groups, it did not identify Arab-Americans as a separate minority. The Fire 20/20 study included data regarding Muslim populations, but this category could have included a number of different ethnicities and not specifically Arab-Americans.

A survey was created that asked firefighters to rate their experience with a list of potential challenges as identified in the 2010 Fire 20/20 study. The survey further requested firefighters identify potential resources that would help alleviate those challenges. Following the approval to conduct the survey by the Naval Postgraduate School Internal Review Board Review Board, anonymous surveys were distributed to 145 Dearborn firefighters stationed at one of Dearborn’s five fire stations. A total of 74 surveys were completed and returned.

Upon return of the surveys, the data collected showed that firefighters identified three major challenges when servicing a large Arab-American population. Those challenges included language barriers, the misuse of 9-1-1 services, and a lack of community understanding about the role of the fire service. The results were consistent with the experiences of other fire departments throughout the nation that provide service to large minority groups; however, some differences were seen. These differences included a higher percentage of respondents who perceived a misuse of 9-1-1 services, as well as a lack of community knowledge about the role of the fire service.

Fire department services are often performed during emergencies or life and death situations. Fire departments that service communities with large minority populations can face challenges that may hinder effective and efficient services during an emergency. Although Dearborn has continued to attempt to recruit more Arab-Americans into the department, the overall number remains low. Given the current challenges with an underrepresented Arab-American minority in the department, it was important to study what existing challenges Dearborn firefighters faced while providing service to the Arab-American population of Dearborn.

This study’s findings revealed that Dearborn firefighter respondents experienced challenges when providing service to the Arab-American population in Dearborn. These findings are not unlike reports from other fire departments who service minority populations throughout the United States as reported in the 2010 Fire 20/20 study. Recommendations include increased collaboration between Arab-American community and religious leaders to help educate residents on the appropriate use of 9-1-1 services and the role of the fire service. The creation of a “citizens’ fire academy” was also recommended that should focus on bringing Arab-Americans into the fire stations to undergo training evolutions with Dearborn firefighters to gain a better understanding of the role of the fire department. Finally, the hiring of additional bilingual civilian staff or contracting translating services was recommended in an effort to improve challenges related to language barriers.



[1] Nabeel Abraham and Andrew Shryock, ed., Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2000).

[2] Lou Piotrowski, “National Multicultural Community Fire Prevention Study,” Fire 20/20, 2012,

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