By DEREK NORMAN
City Councilman Andy King on Thursday demanded stronger action by Fire Department brass against cases of discrimination and hazing in firehouses across the city.
The demand came at a gathering of elected officials and members of the fire department in front of Brooklyn Federal Court in the wake of a lawsuit filed last spring by probationary firefighter Gordon Springs, the alleged victim of sexual assault and discrimination in 2015 by fellow firefighters at Engine 40/Ladder 35 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
“Today’s about having a conversation to expose something that is deadly wrong in the culture of the fire department,” said King. “Unfortunately, it took a lawsuit for the FDNY to realize that diversity is what makes the department stronger. With this in mind, we need to respect at all times what differences bring to that rank.”
African Americans make up about eight percent of the department, while about ten percent are Hispanic. While the city spends roughly $10 million on recruiting minorities to ensure diversity, the harsh hazing of these employees is unacceptable and at times deliberate discrimination, according to the councilman.
Springs filed the lawsuit after an incident in which he was forced onto a workout bench and two white firefighters, stark naked, dangled their genitals in his face. After filing a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and having little result, Springs brought the case to the federal court, where an investigation found enough reasonable cause to believe that discrimination did in fact occur, according to Springs’ attorney, Paul Liggieri.
“After most officers were aware of what occurred, instead of taking corrective actions, Springs was made to be a pariah, and wear a scarlet letter,” said Liggieri of his client, who remains on active duty. “It is a shame how the dream of Gordon Springs became a nightmare immediately after he graduated. Just as my client woke up and tried to pursue his dream, it’s time for the City of New York to wake up and take action.”
The urge for stronger action came after more firefighters have stepped forward to file formal grievances against the FDNY for discrimination and harassment. When asked how many, Liggieri said, “I can’t tell you how many because we have not filed the suits, but I can tell you it is definitely more than one.”
Several women firefighters, who overall only make up about 0.5 percent of the department, spoke out against the harassment they said they experienced. One woman recounted a hazing in which feces was spread on her gear and toilet, some with maggots growing.
Several others, including Ama Dwimoh of the Brooklyn borough president’s office and members of the Vulcan society, joined Councilman King in calling out the department on these issues, assuring that they will adamantly campaign to address the hazing and discrimination within the FDNY.
“At the end of the day,” said King. “The only thing that a firefighter should be concerned with when he wakes up and goes into the firehouse is ‘how am I going to respond when that bell rings and I need to save a New Yorker’s life.’”
Photo by Derek Norman depicts Regina Wilson of Vulcan Society