Firebirds Call For More Than Suspension

Aliyya Swaby PhotoBlack firefighters disagreed on whether the firefighter suspended for allegedly using the N-word in a Facebook comment should ultimately be terminated.

The split became apparent at a press conference the New Haven Firebirds Society held Wednesday afternoon at the Goffe Street firehouse to praise leadership for its fast response and call for further action.

Fire Chief Allyn Wright suspended the firefighter—a lieutenant with 21 years on the job—Tuesday for 15 days without pay. The Board of Fire Commissioners can choose to take additional punitive action.

A screen shot of an Islamophobic Facebook post showed a comment in the name of the firefighter that reads: “In the U.S. we call them niggers.” The comment was taken down hours after the screen shot circulated among firefighters and city officials Monday.

Firebirds President William Augustine said Tuesday that the lieutenant should be fired, if the allegation is proven true. Wednesday, he said the fire commissioners should at least “demote” him to a probationary position.

Firebirds Vice President Darrell Brooks said Wednesday that he has worked with the lieutenant for years and had never heard him use the n-word, but that it was clearly “in his heart.”

But Brooks said he wasn’t calling for the lieutenant to be fired. “I certainly wouldn’t want to see anyone terminated,” he said. “With that being said, the use of that word and the ease at which it was used was very concerning.”

He said he wouldn’t trust the lieutenant to “go the extra mile” to save his family members living in New Haven.

For that exact reason, Douglas Wardlaw, the society’s second vice president, said the lieutenant should be forced to retire. “A suspension still brings the same person harboring the same ill feelings back on the force,” he said. And Wardlaw said he wouldn’t feel safe taking orders from a high-ranking officer who had made racist comments: “If you feel that low about me, how safe will I be?”

Many other firefighters “harbor the same feelings. He’s the one dumb enough to get caught,” he said.

The firefighter did not admit to or deny the allegation in a Tuesday morning meeting with the fire chief. Mayor Toni Harp, Chief Wright and fire union President Jimmy Kottage have all called the post “unacceptable.”

Brooks said the community should use the incident to push for major cultural changes within the department. He said city and community leaders should join firefighters for ongoing discussions about race in a department with “deep-seated” race issues. “The community pays our salary so they should hold us accountable,” he said.

None of the Firebirds present had talked to the lieutenant since the suspension.

Looking at the larger picture, Brooks said, after the next round of retirement, racial diversity in the department will drop back to 1970 levels. Black firefighters won a series of discrimination suits in the 1970s after having been shut out of the department for decades.

Firebird Gary Tinney said black firefighters are “painted as bad guys” for speaking out against discrimination. But the need for more racial diversity is clear, he said.

Two former fire commissioners showed their support Wednesday—they, too, differed on how current commissioners should move forward with the lieutenant’s suspension.

Bishop Theodore Brooks, a commissioner 12 to 15 years ago, said “suspension is enough with understanding and training behind that ... I don’t want to take away someone’s means to take care of their family.” But, he said, if the lieutenant continues to put racists posts on social media, he should be terminated.

The Rev. Boise Kimber disagreed: “I think the individual ought to be terminated and then he should have to fight to get his job back.”

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posted by: Bobbe Bellamy on September 2, 2015  11:44am

The below is a ‘Snap Shot’ of Bishop Theodore Brooks’ quote written in the above article .....  MY personal feelings:  Thanks Bishop for being the humble man you are.  Note: minor tweaking was done by using CAPs to show strong support.

and it READS…........Bishop Theodore Brooks said “suspension is enough with UNDERSTANDING and TRAINING behind that ... I don’t want to take away someone’s means to take care of their family.” BUT, he said, if the lieutenant CONTINUES to put racists posts on social media, he SHOULD be terminated”.

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 2, 2015  12:45pm

As I said in my earlier comments, I don’t think the gentleman should be fired for the disgusting language used.  But I reiterate, he should be reduced in rank and be placed on the hydrant painting detail.

“Firebird Gary Tinney said black firefighters are “painted as bad guys” for speaking out against discrimination.” 

It is your right and responsibility to public to continue speaking out against “factual” discrimination in the department.  But be careful for what you’re asking for.  Because should the same thing happen to one of your members, you will then have to be supportive of their dismissal also.

posted by: gladiator94 on September 2, 2015  12:56pm

Who are the Firebirds to dictate what the punishment should be? There is a Chief of the Dept. that handled it very well yesterday. If the accused Lieutenant doesn’t learn anything losing a month’s pay, then shame on him.
The firefighters in the picture I’m sure have all watched TV shows, listened to music, or have heard that word on the streets. Have any of them ever wrote or called the TV stations, radio stations and protested this word being used ? Have they ever stopped someone on the streets and told them not to use the word? I doubt it.
Three of the FD members in the picture have been suspended during their career’s. One for a more serious charge, ( failure to respond to an alarm) NO other firefighters requested that any of them be fired or demoted.
I Am Not Condoning the Lieutenant in question, what he is accused of doing was very ignorant and insulting.
Darrell Brooks , for you to say , that your worried the accused Lieutenant would not go the extra mile to save your family members, is a disgrace and outrageous. Darrell, you as a veteran firefighter, should be ashamed of yourself.
I believe there is Not one firefighter on the NHFD, including myself, that would not go the extra mile for anyone.
Darrell, your father, the honorable and respected Bishop Theodore Brooks, made the most correct statement in the above article. Maybe you should listen to your father more, he is a good role model.
Why don’t you reach out to this accused Lieutenant and sit down and educate him on that word and other slurs, said by any race, is hurtful.
Stop the hate and educate.

posted by: Malcolm Genexer on September 2, 2015  1:18pm

Doug, how many second chances have you been given by the department? He who cast the first stone.

posted by: joebrummer on September 2, 2015  1:42pm

This would be an opportunity to use community and restorative justice just as we are trying to implement in the schools.  Bringing all those involved and impacted together to heal from this experience and to allow the firefighter who made the comments a chance to be accountable to the people harmed.  Punishments and firings are not real justice because they do not heal the harms or repair the damage.  Bringing together a true community response in a formal community conference would be better for all involved. 

A quick google search on “Community Conferencing” would allow you see videos examples of what it looks like and stories of how it works.

posted by: Wikus van de Merwe on September 2, 2015  1:50pm

I wonder how much he’ll get when the city settles his law suit…

posted by: Brian L. Jenkins on September 2, 2015  5:07pm

@ joebrummer and gladiator,

Darrell Brooks was correct in saying what he said.  The firefighter has never asked for forgiveness and has chosen not to own up to what he did.  In essence, he believes in what he said.

posted by: Bear on September 2, 2015  6:24pm

There is no winner or loser in this unfortunate situation. I totally embrace as a person of color what “Gladiator94” is saying in terms of educating this lieutenant and a senior member of the “Firebirds” sitting down to discuss what was his motivation in committing this offensive act.

The Honorable Reverend Theodore Brooks I agree with ” Gladiator94” is a wise man who I feel should set the tone for that discussion to happen. This could be the first step in talking about that “Elephant in the room” called race relations which is a good time as any to begin.

This lieutenant definitely as well as every public servant especially Police and Fire personnel need to be educated on African American, Latino, Italian American, Irish American and Asian American culture.

Chief Wright no matter what your own personal feelings about him need to be commended on his swift action of dealing with the issue instead of trying to sweep it under the rug within his department in fear of the incident may portray him of poor leadership skills and that his department was falling apart.

I say this to the entire Fire Department that you women and men are supposed to be brothers and sisters when that alarm goes off while we civilians are asleep in our beds at home. You all have to protect each other when you go into that burning building. This is the time not to divide but a time to unite and respond to one of your own and his family is in trouble.

Again, I’m African American and whatever has been histrionic within the NHFD now is the time to try to and heal as well as to find a solution in this troubling incident which definitely stretches across all City of New Haven Departments. This is not just a NHFD issue it’s a citywide problem.

Lastly, I’m not an “Uncle Tom”  or. “Oriole” for attempting to offer a way to resolve this issue. I’m just trying to close the racial divide which has gone on too long around the United States of America!

posted by: Edward Francis on September 3, 2015  5:38pm

“Hats off” to certainly have common sense….

posted by: Bear on September 4, 2015  6:31am

Thank you Edward Francis your compliment is very much accepted! Enough of the divisive commentary. If everyone who has made commentary about the incident attempted to seek a cure and a solution I think we might be heading in the right direction in talking about that proverbial “Elephant in the room” called race relations discussion and how we can close the century old racial divide we are seeing unfold right before our eyes and across the United States.