MILWAUKEE, WI — A dozen Milwaukee firefighters will be disciplined and the city Fire Department will conduct anti-harassment training following an investigation into a brown figurine found hanging in a fire station.
The department’s investigation found that a white male firefighter found the figurine shaped like a fetus on the street and brought it into the station out of “curiosity.” He then hung the figurine by its neck with a pink gift-wrapping ribbon on a bulletin board in the station’s kitchen. It was there for several days until the station’s only Black female firefighter reported it to administration.
Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing said Thursday that he believes the firefighter did not act with racist or sexist intent, or target an individual member or group.
But he added: “Stupidity is not a defense.”
The department has read the disciplinary charges to the firefighter responsible but is not making those charges public until the investigation is closed, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Eleven additional members — including those with ranks of deputy chief, battalion chief, captain and lieutenant — will receive letters of reprimand, which will negatively affect their pay and chances of promotion.
Fire Station 2, located downtown, houses predominantly white firefighters.
“We had people come in and out of that station, officers whose job it is to make sure the engine house is a safe place where everybody in that house is treated with dignity and respect. That didn’t happen,” Rohlfing said. “That’s what bothers us most.”
The Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters, which represents African American firefighters, said the department needs to do better, WITI-TV reported.
“We understand the firefighter who put up the noose admitted doing so, but said no offense was intended,” the group said in a statement. “This is hard to believe and if it is true it is a strong signal that some major re-education is needed, especially if this firefighter and every other firefighter who saw it do not see a problem with it. Remember we are citizens of a country with a history of racism and lynching Black people.”
A photograph of the hanging figuring showed ordinary knots rather than a hangman’s noose.
Rohlfing said all members of the department will receive anti-harassment and bias training.
Although the incident was reported in February, it was not made public until last Saturday, Rohlfing said the investigation was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic and was not influenced by recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“We all get wake-up calls every now and then,” Rohlfing said. “We do a good job, but this certainly will move us forward and help us concentrate on this particular issue because more than anything we want our fire stations to feel safe.”
From The Star Tribune