Exclusive: Firefighters discuss racial slur ordeal

March 1, 2011 4:30:25 AM PST
Tonight, for the first time, we're hearing from the three Houston firefighters who lost their jobs because of a racial slur written on a patient report. After a long appeals process, they will be reporting back to work, but they say nothing can undo what they've been through the past six months.

For six months, three Houston firefighters and their families lived lives in limbo.

"To see the hurt in my wife's eyes weekly, and sometimes daily, was very difficult," firefighter Spencer Allred said.

"My life was in turmoil; I didn't know where my life was headed, I guess," firefighter Randal Ricks said.

More than a month after Ryan Smith was fired, his wife had a baby.

"It was the happiest time in my life but it was overshadowed by such a terrible time in my life," Smith said.

It began on a March evening last year when Allred, Ricks and Smith left the station to respond to an elderly African American woman complaining of chest pains.

The firefighters from Station 55 lost their jobs after being accused of writing a racial slur on a computerized medic report.

"When we went down to look at the record, we were just in shock and disbelief," Allred said.

It was written on a report they say other people access to on a laptop that is not password-protected.

"My laptop at home has Fort Knox level security compared to these things," Ricks said.

Two of the firefighters were offered two month suspensions if they admitted wrongdoing, but they did not.

Last week, an arbitrator ruled in their favor.

"They were wrongly accused, and I believe recklessly fired," the firefighters' attorney, Rick Mumey, said.

The arbitrator said the city had no evidence that any of them wrote the slur on the report; as a result they're being reinstated as Houston firefighters and paid back wages.

"It was more of a politically motivated crucifixion," Smith said

"It's going to affect me probably the rest of my career," Ricks said.

And while they say they can't get the past six months back, returning to the fire department is a start.

"I did not do this, and I want them to know if I show up at their doorstep to serve them that I will not give them less service based on their skin color," Ricks said.

Assistant Chief Rick Flanagan, who was acting chief at the time, responded to the decision saying he had to look at the facts at the time and make a decision. He now supports the arbitrator's ruling 100 percent.

The firefighters are now waiting for the call to report back to work. They will be reassigned from Station 55.