HFD investigating firefighters over racial slur

September 8, 2010 2:42:16 PM PDT
Three Houston firefighters are under investigation because of one racial slur written on an official report. It's the latest in a series of embarrassments for the fire department. The city's Office of Inspector General has been called to investigate the case. We've learned one of three people on the fire department's EMS crew, who was supposed to detail the patient's transport, instead wrote two words -- one of which can't even be printed.

Station 55 in southeast Houston was quiet Wednesday afternoon, even though an internal investigation is focused on three of its firefighters.

The investigation stems from a medical emergency call back in March. According to fire department officials, a three-person crew had transported a patient to the hospital, and in the narrative of their report, all that was typed was two words -- one offensive.

"It's not a good word, and anybody who uses it is definitely wrong," said Gaylon Davenport with the Houston Black Firefighters Association.

"Should it be on a report -- a Houston firefighter report?" we asked.

"Not at all. Nowhere. Period. Shouldn't be on any kind of report," he responded.

The fire department says the company it contracts to manage EMS records caught the slur in April, reported it and the investigation was launched.

In a written statement, Interim Fire Chief Rick Flanagan tells Eyewitness News any member of HFD who violates the public trust in the manner described will be terminated.

Union President Jeff Caynon once again finds himself on the defense.

"You have to be concerned about how it's going to be portrayed," Caynon said.

That's because it hasn't been a good year and a half for firefighter public relations. A noose was reported in a fire station early last year, and last summer, racist and sexist graffiti was discovered in the women's dorm at Station 54.

"None of what you saw last summer, and even the allegation right now comport with what I know about the men and women who do this job," Caynon said.

Caynon says the three firefighters under investigation have sought representation from the union, and he plans to reserve judgment.

"If they can prove that somebody did this, and that kind of language was used, there's no question that's offensive," Caynon said. "That's offensive to me personally, but we're not there yet and I think you have to respect the process."

Davenport isn't quick to judge either.

"You're innocent until proven guilty," he said. "So give these guys a chance to explain."

A spokesman told us it will be tricky trying to figure out who entered the record, but they also want to figure out who knew about it. The Office of Inspector General has about two months left in its standard 180-day timeline to complete its investigation.

In a statement issued to Eyewitness News Wednesday, HFD said:

"No person has the right to harm the relationship between the Houston Fire Department and the citizens of Houston in this way. Any member of HFD who violates the public trust in the manner described in this allegation will be terminated. The matter has been referred to the Office of Inspector General. Among the issues that must be determined is precisely who entered the record and who knew about it.

"The company hired by the fire department to manage E.M.S. records brought the matter to the attention of the E.M.S. Division, in April. A supervisor in that division filed the complaint with O.I.G. I thank our contractor and our staff for their diligence.

We will take the appropriate steps when the results of the investigation are communicated to us. I eagerly await those results."


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