A group of women firefighters on Monday called for the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas to step down for allegedly ignoring claims that female firefighters experience sexism, bullying, and sexual harassment from their male colleagues.
Advocates and several women-led coalitions including the Los Angeles Women in Fire Service, Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California, Women’s March Action held a news conference on Monday to bring attention to the sexist culture in the department, the Los Angeles Times reports.
“Today, we call for an end to the good old boys club at L.A. Fire,” said Kolieka Siegel, president of California National Organization for Women. “Mayor Eric Garcetti, you have work to do,” she added later.
Kris Larson, the president of the Los Angeles Women in Fire Service, said, “Our leadership’s apathy, dismissiveness, inaction, has allowed a bullying culture to grow and develop within the department with disastrous results. Those who are courageous enough to file complaints are faced with retaliation, hazing and retribution at their assignment.”
Members of the Los Angeles Women in Fire Service also sent a letter to Mayor Eric Garcetti, alleging that Terrazas “has ignored, downplayed, denied, or actively obstructed any investigation into the cultural problems within LAFD.”
In the letter, the association alleged that women firefighters have faced harassment in the form of feces being spread around the women’s restroom, male firefighters exposing themselves and saying “this is what a fireman looks like,” racist and sexist comments, and incidents of physical violence, Los Angeles Daily News reports.
“There is a lack of both accountability and action from the Fire Chief, who, when informed of these incidents, merely brushes them off as ‘one-offs’ or ‘pockets’ — as he calls them — for all these incidents,” Larson said in the letter.
In a statement, Terrazas said he met with the Los Angeles Women in Fire Service on Thursday and “discussed collaborative initiatives to protect and enhance our work environments,” including an update to the department’s Disciplinary Penalty Guidelines and providing specific training to improve the workplace culture, Los Angeles Daily News reports.
Garcetti showed support for Terrazas, saying that he has “full confidence” in the fire chief.
“He and the entire LAFD leadership know that I have zero tolerance for sexism, racism, or harassment in our firehouses or any other workplace — and I expect them to act with urgency when any allegations of abuse are brought to their attention,” Garcetti said in a statement.
He added that he’s working “to accelerate transformative, institutional reforms to bring about the fundamental change we all recognize needs to exist everywhere in this city and in this department.”
Women firefighters have been speaking up about the ill treatment they’ve received for several months now including in a Los Angeles Times report about the department’s “frat house” culture and a recent LAist.com article, which discusses how harassment and retaliation prevented many of them from staying quiet.
The LAFD’s acting public information director, Cheryl Getuiza, said in a statement, “The Los Angeles City Fire Department takes all complaints seriously and investigates them upon notification. Disciplinary action will occur if the preponderance of evidence indicates that the misconduct occurred,” Los Angeles Daily News reports.
She added, “However, if the Department is not made aware of a complaint, we cannot address it and take appropriate action as needed. Furthermore, the Chief does not ignore any incidents of misconduct and encourages Department members to report all allegations of inappropriate behavior.”
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