13 Undercover got a complaint about what appears to be an inadvertently broadcast conversation between at least two Houston firefighters discussing race. It lasted two minutes and was broadcast over a keyed microphone on a two way radio. It was heard Sunday afternoon at all 90 fire stations in the city of Houston.
Here is a compressed version of what's audible.
Recorded comments: "You can always see them getting the United Negro College Fund, the NAACP, the ACLU and whatever bull----. ... Your own union based on your skin color. Isn't that racist in itself? ... Like I said, you know damn well that they can say whatever to everything else, but you know damn well that if you called it "white firefighters union" or "white college fund" they would f------- have a stroke, dude."
Another voice comes on the recording, "All units check your mics. Got a mic open. All units check your mics."
We listened to the recordings with Houston Fire Chief Phil Boriskie. He told us that he does not know the names of the firefighters involved and that there is now an internal investigation. He adds that this segment of a conversation should not reflect on the attitudes of the entire department.
"Some people are going to be offended, as well they should be," Chief Boriskie said. "I don't believe this is the character or demeanor of the Houston Fire Department and it's not exactly what we represent."
We don't know the full context of the conversation. When 13 Undercover first requested a copy on Tuesday, the Houston Fire Department was reluctant to release it, though they did late Thursday afternoon.
The department would not guess how long the internal investigation will take or what if any discipline the involved firefighter might face.
Otis Jordan is president of the Houston Black Firefighters Association. He believes racial tension increased after a white fire captain was reprimanded for having a noose in his locker.
"We are about bringing everybody together. We are not a racist organization. We aren't separating ourselves," said Jordan.
Yolanda Smith, Executive Director for the NAACP Houston branch, has also heard the recording.
"If I'm an individual in an African-American community and I had to rely on these individuals to come and save me in my time of need, they are not going to be sensitive," said Smith.
Smith says she also sees this as an opportunity to educate, through training and open dialogue.
Chief Boriskie added, "I'll tell you, overall we do a very good job. I believe there will always be issues in any large organization and I think it's our responsibility to address those issues as they occur."
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