Recent reporting on the experiences of female firefighters in the LAFD dropped at the end of a week filled with the news of a third federal indictment of a sitting Los Angeles Councilmember, city redistricting skirmishes, and environmental disasters from oil spills in our ocean to rotting vegetation in the Carson channel. It would be easy enough to overlook or ignore the allegations tarnishing yet another of our most respected institutions – our fire department. If true, however, our women firefighters join the
black firefighters who in June complained of bullying, harassment, and hazing aimed at chasing them out of the department. The specific allegations warrant our immediate attention before the actions of a few tarnish the department as a whole.
Defacing uniforms and helmets of female firefighters with graffiti insults, leaving putrid meat and maggots in their bedding, dropping one’s trousers to expose genitals claiming that they are a job requirement and smearing feces in women’s showers and restrooms are all assaults. The allegations detail aggressive actions that must be investigated and if true, require swift action against the individuals responsible. That is an internal disciplinary matter and can be handled internally provided that it is handled and those found culpable fired. More disturbing is the description of a tendency to “close ranks” and protect bad actors. That is a collective responsibility and a workplace matter and unacceptable anywhere, but especially in a workplace paid for by and serving the public.
Whether in law enforcement, fire fighting, defending our country, or other arenas where jobs are overwhelmingly male occupied, especially if they are physically demanding and require interdependence, the belief that women just don’t belong in a given environment persists and some will try to prevail by making it impossible for a woman to continue to do her job. While the elements may be all too familiar in hyper-male dominated fields, professions or industries, the incidents described in the recent articles should galvanize all good men and women to act collectively and stop the bullying, harassment, and outright assaults from those who do not get their way. If an individual – male or female – is unable to meet the physical demands of the job, the individual should not be hired, period. But no group should be permitted to impose their will to keep a public workplace male, white, straight, or ethnically homogenous. The best way to nip outside regulation in the bud is for the department and the union to take the steps necessary to discipline those who have misbehaved.
The corrosive effect of tolerating this kind of behavior is evidenced by the decline of respect for our once revered institutions – from the military to law enforcement. Our Firefighters Union, our Fire Chief and our rank and file firefighters and EMS technicians need to stand united, to condemn this behavior and reform their culture. If the Department leadership can’t or won’t do that, our City leadership will need step in and get it done.