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  • New LAFD incident adds fuel to the fire

    first_imgMore bad news broke Tuesday about alleged discrimination at the Los Angeles Fire Department, as interim LAFD Chief Douglas L. Barry recounted his accomplishments in trying to right a department tarnished by scandals. The disclosure of an incident at a West L.A. fire station came during a news conference in which Barry assessed his first 100 days since Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa appointed him as head of the 3,500-member organization. “The truth is we will never be able to prevent every act of stupidity, but it is the response that tells the real story,” the mayor said. Officials refused to offer details of the case, which was disclosed days after news reports surfaced of an ongoing internal investigation into alleged harassment against an African-American firefighter at a North Hollywood firehouse. That firefighter told investigators he found a banana inside his locker and white lotion smeared on his clothing and uniform. “I’m extremely disappointed that our people don’t recognize these issues,” said Barry, flanked by Villaraigosa and members of the civilian Los Angeles Fire Commission. “I’m as amazed as you are. I have no patience for this kind of behavior. It will not be tolerated.” Barry, a 31-year LAFD veteran who is African-American, became interim chief Jan. 1 after former Chief William Bamattre’s retirement. Villaraigosa has touted him as a “change agent.” “He’s brought intensity, intelligence and integrity and he’s provided leadership and an intimate knowledge of this great department,” Villaraigosa said. “The chief has already begun to work to create a culture of respect at every single fire station, where hazing and harassment are unacceptable.” Litany of problems Barry assumed the post amid several high-profile harassment and discrimination cases that resulted in millions in settlements and payouts. An audit by City Controller Laura Chick’s agency aired problems with lax discipline, gender and racial discrimination and a desire by some to downplay offenses. And earlier this month, a jury awarded $1.73 million to Lewis S. Bressler, a Los Angeles firefighter who said he was forced to retire for blowing the whistle on harassment of a colleague. That firefighter, Brenda Lee, has a pending case against the city alleging harassment by her superiors because she is African-American and a lesbian. Also unresolved is the case of former Firefighter Tennie Pierce, an African-American who filed a discrimination suit after dog food was slipped into his dinner in what colleagues said was a prank. The City Council had approved a $2.7 million settlement, a sum that sparked public outrage. Villaraigosa subsequently vetoed it, and the case is headed for trial this fall. Tougher guidelines To head off further troubles, the department has enacted tougher disciplinary guidelines, and Barry said he has been visiting every firehouse personally to communicate his “zero-tolerance” stance on horseplay, hazing and other bad behavior. “Repeatedly, the LAFD has been unjustly characterized as an organization fraught with widespread insensitivity amongst its members,” he said. “The reality is that the overwhelming majority of our members are extremely hard-working and dedicated individuals. … Recent publicized cases have highlighted incidents where our human-relations efforts can be improved. And we’re working aggressively to do just that.” Among the messages he is asserting: “Your job is in jeopardy by engaging in those behaviors.” No one has been placed on leave so far in either of the two most recent investigations. Jerry Thomas, an LAFD captain and regular critic of the department who is currently on leave, said Barry has to mean what he says. “Once the facts bear everything out and the members are afforded due process, you got to hold them accountable,” he said. “You’ve got to start terminating people. The Fire Department shouldn’t condone that behavior.” [email protected] (818) 546-3304160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more