Coalition accuses city fire instructors of bigotry

CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Community activists converged on the Erie County Fire Training Academy in Cheektowaga Friday morning to accuse instructors at the academy of harassment and bigotry, but were stopped at the entrance by Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield.

The activists focused their ire specifically on a lieutenant who they say humiliates black and female cadets by using disparaging remarks and racially-charged insults.

Charley Fisher III, president of the grassroots political coalition B.U.I.L.D. of Buffalo, laid out some of the offensive language he claims is aimed at the black and female recruits.

“Don’t call people monkeys, don’t reference ‘flipping hamburgers’ and pimping. Don’t say those things, don’t use the ‘n’ word here,” Fisher said.

The activists accused bigoted instructors of creating a hostile environment for the trainees, and they took particular aim at a fire department lieutenant.

“He has hazed, harassed, and made malicious, bitter, evil statements against cadets that have had a high casualty among them,” Fisher said.

The coalition from B.U.I.L.D., MOCHA (Men of Color Helping All Society, Inc.) and PUSH Buffalo claims some of the instructors are not certified to teach, and Fisher said they are especially hard on the non-white trainees.

“The Justice Department needs to look into this,” Fisher said.

Commissioner Whitfield says the trainees have been surveyed twice, anonymously, to gauge their gripes, but added, only two recruits have resigned so far–one black,one white.

“The persons who have left this academy have left for several different reasons, but none of them have left and said they are leaving because of the hostile environment here. That has not been the case,” Whitfield said.

The president of the firefighters union, Tom Barrett, called the charges baseless, and suspects they stem from an incident we reported on back in May, involving the lieutenant. Police charged a retired firefighter with attacking the lieutenant, at the training academy.

“He is the utmost professional, he has been on the job for almost 20 years now,” Barrett said. “He is an unbelievable firefighter, and officer. He has done nothing contrary to show any kind of racial attitude that I know of.”

Charges against the retired firefighter, who accused the lieutenant of bigotry, are still pending.

The activists plan to meet with other community members next week, and are calling on U.S. Attorney William Hochul to investigate the bias charges. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney would neither confirm nor deny they looking into those allegations.

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