Attorneys make recommendations for HFD

December 8, 2009 3:06:45 PM PST
The Houston Fire Department needs to take a hard look at itself. That's what the fire chief said Tuesday after the release of an independent report that looked into racism and sexism within the department. Five months after racist and sexist graffiti were scrawled on the lockers of two female Houston firefighters, a study commissioned by the city says more or less that was an isolated incident.

"We did not see the same type of issues that originally caused us to be engaged, the types of gender discrimination, race discrimination, incidents that got the attention in the summer," said study consultant Merri Schneider-Vogel.

But the 55-page report does point out some areas where the fire department needs work, including:

  • Recruit and mentor diverse candidates
  • Improve training at all levels in the department
  • More human resources support
  • Demonstrate leadership improvement
They're ideas that the fire chief welcomes.

"I think the study is meant to be comprehensive and assist the Houston Fire Department in taking a good hard look at itself, a good hard look at its and policies and procedures," said Houston Fire Department Chief Phil Boriskie.

But the study does not satisfy everyone. The lawyer representing several women, including the two whose lockers were vandalized, says it's hard to trust a study where most of the interviews were conducted inside fire houses.

"Certainly, you have to be aware there is potential retaliation and take all steps you can to prevent it so people can speak freely," said attorney Joe Ahmad.

Ahmed also points out that there is still no new developments from the Office of Inspector General in the ongoing investigation into who actually scrawled the graffiti on the women's lockers, a frustration that is shared by the fire chief.

"It's been hurtful for the entire department and nobody wants resolution more than Houston firefighters," he said.

As for the allegations of racist graffiti, the Office of Inspector General is still investigating that. Chief Boriskie says he wants to implement some of what's in the study, but doesn't have a firm timeline yet.


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