Fire Department Faces Racism Complaints

February 12, 1992|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Shaken by a widely publicized sex scandal, the Annapolis Fire Department is now facing complaints of harassment brought by two black firefighters.

The firefighters told Alderman Samuel Gilmer, D-Ward 3, of alleged racial slurs and other incidents they believe indicate a pattern of harassment.

"I'm tired of receiving complaints of discrimination in the fire department," the alderman said, handing over a copy of the second complaint to Mayor Alfred A. Hopkins during a City Council meeting Monday night.

The mayor said he was aware of only one complaint, which has been turned over to the internal affairs unit of the Annapolis Police Department.

"The only discrimination I know of over there is being investigated," Hopkins said.

The fire department is under a 1986 federal consent order to recruit and promote more blacks.

Four of the city's seven black firefighters filed a lawsuit in 1985 alleging the department discriminated in hiring, promotions and testing procedures. In settling the suit, the city agreed to aggressively recruit minorities and increase the percentage of black firefighters to reflect the percentage of blacks living in Annapolis.

But the percentage has not increased substantially since then. Only about 10 percent of the city's 79 firefighters are black, in contrast to a black population of more than 30 percent in Annapolis.

"I am not pleased with the progress that's been made," said Alderman Carl O. Snowden, D-Ward 5, who assisted the firefighters and black police officers in filing civil rights lawsuits in 1985. "When compared with the police department in hiring and promoting African-Americans, the fire department is light years behind."

A white firefighter who learned the consent decree has been continued responded by making a racial slur, thefirst complaint said.

The second complaint involves a black firefighter's attempt to

train on equipment in the Eastport station, city sources said.

Gilmer said he received the first complaint from a black firefighter a month ago and the second one in the last week.

"It just seems to be that black firefighters are not getting the respect, the due process," he said.

The city's embattled fire chief, Edward Sherlock, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

City Administrator Michael Mallinoff said Gilmer brought the first racism complaint to his attention, and he turned it over to the police department to investigate.

An 11-week probe into allegations that firefighters had sex while on duty was hampered when one of the investigators admitted he once had sex with a woman involved in the case. Members of the union have overwhelmingly expressed a lack of confidence in the chief.

The mayor and administration are making a "concertedeffort" to focus on the fire department and resolve the lingering personnel problems, Mallinoff said.

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