A coalition of women firefighters at the Los Angeles Fire Department today called for Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas to be removed for allegedly ignoring allegations of sexism, harassment and abuse endured by women at the department.
In a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service alleged that Terrazas ``has ignored, downplayed, denied or actively obstructed any investigation into the cultural problems with LAFD.''
The association said in the letter that exclusion of women and minority firefighters at the department begins in the hiring process and at the academy, where they have to exceed the standards in order to meet them.
“It becomes far more insidious when we reach our first assignments as probationary firefighters when we are given the grim choice to silently endure the abuse or give up on the idea of a successful (or any) career,” the letter said.
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The alleged abuses include harassment, including in the form of feces spread around the women's restroom; male firefighters exposing themselves and saying “this is what a fireman looks like;” racist objects inside the fire station; and racist and sexist comments and physical violence, according to the letter to Garcetti.
In a statement to City News Service, Terrazas said he met with the association on Thursday and “discussed collaborative initiatives to protect and enhance our work environments,” including updating the department's Disciplinary Penalty Guidelines, having department-wide messaging occur more frequently and providing specific training to improve the workplace culture.
“I respect the LAWFS and all our other fire service organizations and will continue to have open communication and meetings to move forward together,'' Terrazas said.
Garcetti stood behind Terrazas in a statement to City News Service, saying he has “full confidence” in the fire chief.
“Chief Terrazas has done an excellent job leading and rebuilding our fire department during some of our toughest days ever and I have full confidence in him. He and the entire LAFD leadership know that I have zero tolerance for sexism, racism, or harassment in our firehouses or any other workplace --- and I expect them to act with urgency when any allegations of abuse are brought to their attention,'' Garcetti said.
“The experiences that some firefighters have stepped forward to report are sickening and completely unacceptable, and I am working closely with the chief and others in this conversation to accelerate transformative, institutional reforms to bring about the fundamental change we all recognize needs to exist everywhere in this city and in this department.”
On Monday, Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service President Kris Larson, who has served the LAFD for 31 years, held a news conference with representatives from Equity on Fire, Women's March Action, California National Organization of Women and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California.
Larson alleged that Terrazas brushed off the incidents as “one-offs or pockets.”
“Our leadership's apathy, dismissiveness, inaction, has allowed a bullying culture to grow and develop within the department with disastrous results,'' Larson said. “Those who are courageous enough to file complaints are faced with retaliation, hazing and retribution at their assignment.”
The Los Angeles Fire Department's Acting Pubic Information Director Cheryl Getuiza said in a statement: “The Los Angeles City Fire Department takes all complaints seriously and investigates them upon notification. Disciplinary action will occur if the preponderance of evidence indicates that the misconduct occurred. However, if the Department is not made aware of a complaint, we cannot address it and take appropriate action as needed. Furthermore, the Chief does not ignore any incidents of misconduct and encourages Department members to report all allegations of inappropriate behavior.”
Lauren Andrade, an 18-year veteran of the Orange County Fire Authority, spoke as a representative for Equity On Fire, a coalition aimed at addressing systemic discrimination within fire departments. She said that an LAFD firefighter, who wished to remain anonymous, said she was raped by another firefighter inside a fire station.
“I have chosen to remain anonymous because I know the pain that will come with the exposure. I've been told there's nothing more than I can do. It's his word against mine. A man, 15-year veteran versus me, a rookie and female,'' the woman said through Andrade.
Andrade did not disclose details about the alleged rape, but said it happened in either 2016 or 2017. She added that she believes someone else other than the victim reported it and that “there was knowledge that it happened.”