Mayor White meets with female firefighters

August 4, 2009 4:41:45 PM PDT
We have the latest developments involving allegations of racism and sexism within the Houston Fire Department. On Tuesday, Houston Mayor Bill White sat down with a few dozen female Houston firefighters who had good things to say about their experiences in the department.

More than 20 female firefighters from across the city gathered at the basement of Houston City Hall Tuesday morning, spending more than 90 minutes behind closed doors discussing their concerns with Mayor White. Afterwards, the mayor tried to sum up the meeting.

"People unanimously expressed pride in the fire department, and the men and women who work there, and their pride in task every day," said Mayor White.

This meeting came after weeks of controversy that has enveloped HFD, from allegations that racist graffiti were scrawled on two female firefighters lockers to concerns over several noose incidents at various fire stations. The women say the negative allegations are hurtful.

"To tell you the truth, I feel embarrassed," said HFD Senior Captain Julie Higgins "We don't deserve that and the public doesn't deserve that."

"We're being perceived like we're racist, that there is sexual harassment, there's gender discrimination," said Iris Rodriguez with the Houston Fire Department. "That's not the case."

But one of the fire department's most vocal critics, Houston City Councilmember Jolanda Jones, disagreed with the women. She says she's gotten plenty of support from other firefighters who say there are indeed systemic racial and gender issues that need to be tackled.

"There are some within the Houston Fire Department who discriminate based on gender. They discriminate based on race and they retaliate when you complain about gender and race," she said.

Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest as city leaders continue to address allegations within the Houston Fire Department.

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