Fireman got lecture about racist words It preceded charges of blocking aid for black Annapolis man

Captain denies insensitivity

Kirchner was cleared this week of hindering help in latter incident

October 02, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

An Annapolis city fire captain, cleared this week of charges that he blocked lifesaving medical attention to a black man during a mid-July rescue call, was reprimanded for using racist language a month earlier.

Capt. Gene Kirchner, who is white and has been with the department for 30 years, was counseled by supervisors in June for calling a co-worker "darkie" and for other "inappropriate" and "bigoted" comments about blacks, according to internal investigative documents obtained by The Sun. The captain denied to his bosses that he was racially insensitive.

Two weeks ago, Kirchner was accused of delaying efforts to help Sean E. Lucas, 28, of the 1100 block of Primrose Court and of using a racial slur in referring to him after he died.

Tuesday, a city Fire Department investigation cleared Kirchner of hindering the rescue, but city sources say he faces disciplinary action for talking inappropriately and insensitively about Lucas.

In addition, a federal civil rights investigation into the incident is continuing, said Larry K. Foust, an FBI spokesman.

According to the internal city documents, an Eastport firefighter and a lieutenant complained in June to Kirchner's supervisor, Battalion Chief Norman W. Davis, about remarks they say the captain made before the Lucas rescue call.

In a letter to Vaughn Phillips, the city's Equal Employment Opportunity officer, dated July 18, Firefighter John Menassa wrote that Kirchner's "remarks were bigoted and a serious problem which needed correction."

"It was made clear that comments like calling a firefighter 'darkie' and various comments about African-Americans out in public and on TV, were beyond the normal locker room talk which happens all the time," Menassa wrote.

"With the understanding that Chief Davis is one of Captain Kirchner's best friends, I hoped that if anyone could correct the problem he could," Menassa said. "Unfortunately, this behavior did not change."

In a memorandum dated Aug. 15, Davis confirmed a discussion he had had with Menassa and Lt. Eden Avery about Kirchner.

"About two months ago, Lt. Avery advised me that I should counsel Captain Kirchner about his insensitivity towards fellow employees," Davis wrote to Phillips. "He [said] he was concerned because Captain Kirchner had made remarks with racial overtones and he didn't want to see Captain Kirchner get in trouble for this.

"The following shift I counseled Captain Kirchner and advised him that any remarks of a racist nature were absolutely inappropriate and illegal and would be grounds for serious disciplinary action."

Davis also wrote that after the counseling, Kirchner "rejected the allegation that he is insensitive concerning issues of racism" and promised to "make a genuine effort towards correcting any behaviors that might be construed as offensive or insensitive."

'Complete surprise'

Kirchner's attorney, Samuel J. Brown, expressed "complete surprise" yesterday when told of the documents and said, "I question the validity of those documents, because I have not seen the Menassa letter."

"I have reviewed Gene's personnel file, and there was no documentation from Menassa or anybody about prior incidents. I have no knowledge of this at all."

Adrian J. Moody, attorney for the Lucas family, said yesterday that the family was considering a lawsuit against the city of Annapolis and Kirchner.

"I am not surprised, and I can probably speak on behalf of my clients, that I don't think you wake up in the morning and decide to make racial comments about someone, especially in a situation such as the one involving Sean Lucas," said Moody. "I am also not surprised that the city Fire Department cleared him.

"It's sad, but that's usually the way it works. It's a gutless decision by the Fire Department."

News of the Lucas incident surfaced after two paramedics and two firefighters complained to the city's EEO office Sept. 5. According to interviews with a paramedic on the scene, city transcripts of the emergency call and the newly obtained internal documents, this is what took place July 13:

A call concerning an unconscious person on Primrose Court came in at 11: 38 p.m. City paramedics and Engine 36 arrived at the apartment at 11: 44 p.m.

Ed Napoliello, a paramedic who was at the scene the night Lucas died, told investigators that he and his partner treated the patient for about five minutes and repeatedly requested help from the fire crew.

According to subsequent transmissions, the paramedics' request for help from the fire engine, supervised by Kirchner, went out on the wrong channel. Three minutes after arriving on the scene, the transcripts say, the paramedics requested "a back board and intubation kit."

Seconds later, Kirchner responded, "Gotcha."

At that point, stories conflict. City officials say fire personnel responded promptly and competently. Napoliello says the firefighters were too slow and that when they arrived at the apartment, he yelled, "You [expletive] are slow."

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