Culture change for TFD

It’s time to get serious about changing a culture of discrimination in the department.

The Editorial Board
Sun, 01 Dec 2019 05:00:00 GMT

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For a fire department that, in the words of Toledo Fire Chief Brian Byrd, has no discrimination problem, his department has a lot of discrimination complaints and lawsuits.

And now, thanks to affidavits filed in one of those lawsuits, it has come to light that the chief himself was so fed up with apparent racial discrimination aimed at him several years ago that he asked to be demoted.

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The affidavits from former Toledo mayor and current State Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, as well as retired firefighter Tim Ross, reveal that in 2016 he asked to be demoted from deputy chief to battalion chief because he “was treated so badly and that he was suffering personally from the racially charged hostile work environment.”

At one point Mr. Byrd reportedly told Ms. Hicks-Hudson, he “just couldn’t take it anymore.”

There appears to be a serious culture problem in the Toledo Fire Department.

Women and people of color have made a litany of complaints about gender and racial discrimination in recent years.

Major Smith III, a black former fire academy recruit, sued after he said he was wrongfully terminated from the June, 2018, academy class based on his race. He alleges he was forced to meet higher training requirements than his white counterparts.

Battalion Chief Sally Glombowski, who recommended Mr. Smith’s termination in 2018, recently filed her own complaint of discrimination with the Ohio Civil Rights Commission, alleging she was held “to a stricter standard of evaluation” and was moved to a different position based on her age and gender.

Former fire recruit Sierra Adebisi filed a complaint this summer with the state civil rights agency alleging racial and gender discrimination after she was terminated from the department in August, hours before the rest of her academy class graduated.

Randall Fuller, an African-American recruit terminated from the same class as Ms. Adebisi, also filed a racial discrimination complaint with the state commission in August.

A 14-year-old gender discrimination case filed by two firefighters concluded with a split decision in October. Claims made by retired Capt. Carla Stachura were denied, but the jury determined that Pvt. Judi Imhoff suffered adverse employment action and awarded her $150,000.

The issues in these complaints have happened over this many years, through multiple mayoral administrations and under the command of multiple fire chiefs, which suggests the issue is not one leader or one group of leaders.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

Not only is this an unacceptable atmosphere for any workplace to perpetuate, but in this case it is a potentially dangerous atmosphere. The work of a fire department, of course, is life-and-death work. A dysfunctional department is a risk to the firefighters and other first responders who work there and it is a risk to the public they protect.

As the legal and administrative cases stemming from these complaints play themselves out, the Kapszukiewicz administration needs to simultaneously make a priority of improving the culture in the department.

Whatever training, discipline, or instruction is necessary must be embraced to root out the evidently long-standing issues with working in a diverse department.

Toledo needs a healthy and well-run fire department. It’s time to get serious about reforming TFD into one.