Fire Department report slammed by female firefighters, city councilors
Wednesday, January 9, 2019
By Meghan E. Irons GLOBE STAFF JANUARY 09, 2019Female firefighters and local officials on Tuesday blasted a city-commissioned report that found a “male-dominated” culture resistant to change in the Boston Fire Department, saying the review recycled old recommendations and did not go far enough to address systemic issues.“This is ridiculous,’’ said Boston firefighter Julia Rodriguez, who has been on the force for 30 years.The report comes eight months after Mayor Martin J. Walsh announced he had hired an outside counsel to conduct a review after several women complained of a pattern of harassment, sexism, and discrimination in the department. The report defended Commissioner Joseph Finn’s efforts, saying he’s made “considerable progress” in how women are treated. But it also issued 21 recommendations aimed at changing department culture and that pressed leaders, including Finn, to step up efforts to boost the number of women on the force.There are 16 women in the 1,500-member Fire Department.The 41-page review, costing the city more than $126,500, also recommended legislation to create a fire cadet program that would circumvent civil service restrictions requiring the department to give job preference to military veterans, thereby narrowing the pool of eligible female candidates.“The commissioner needs to lead the change to further a more professional and respectful environment by enforcing the rules regarding discrimination, harassment, and retaliation and holding all officers accountable and responsible for the environment or culture allowed under their supervision,’’ the report said.Finn, who became fire commissioner in 2014, said he had begun to make changes in the department long before the report, including investing more than $1.4 million in training, hiring a diversity officer, and renewing efforts to recruit more female veterans. But he said he also needs time to implement them. The number of women in the force has remained stagnant for over a decade.The number of women in the Boston Police Department has remained stagnant for over a decade and of the 1,500 members of the force, only 16 are female.“No one needed to tell me about doing more training and doing more diversity [outreach],’’ Finn said. “These are things I’ve done since I’ve been here. . . . It was the right thing to do.”The report stated that while a few female firefighters expressed discomfort and unhappiness, most of them “do not share that opinion.”Walsh said he was committed to carrying out all 21 recommendations in the report, including the cadet program.But City Councilor Lydia Edwards said the report recycled old recommendations and used terms such as “locker room talk” that diminish women’s voices and their fears.“This report amounts to a ‘bunch of boys will be boys’; it’s laughably inadequate and it demonstrates one of the lowest points of this administration,’’ Edwards said.Rodriguez, the former female liaison for the department who was removed from her post last year, said the report did not give credence to the serious allegations that led to inquiry last year.“I’m very disappointed and frankly angry that we have been waiting eight months for this report,’’ she said, listing the allegations made by the women, including one who said she was sexually assaulted by a co-worker in a Jamaica Plain firehouse. That case is pending in court.Rodriguez and fellow firefighter Yvette Ram said they were further disappointed after being assured by the mayor in two private meetings last year that he would show them the report before it was publicized and they would discuss it.“He did none of that,’’ Ram said. “We wasted our time. We laid our emotions for him. We cried in his office. It did not matter.”The mayor’s office pushed back, saying that Walsh did sit with the female firefighters previously and that he’s “more than happy to have a discussion with them again,’’ said Samantha Ormsby, a spokeswoman.“He has not reneged on any promise and is in fact going further to improve the culture in the Fire Department than has ever been done before,’’ she wrote in an e-mail.In response to some criticisms, the city acknowledged that while the report did include recommendations from past reports, Walsh is committed to adopting each suggestion.US Representative Ayanna Pressley — a Boston City Council member until this month — said the report missed an opportunity to address how to diversify the department so it is more representative of the city, which is majority nonwhite.“It’s distressing, infuriating, and it’s not surprising,’’ said Pressley of the report. “This report did not reveal anything that we did not already know. ”Council President Andrea Campbell called the report overdue and insufficient and said she has personally advocated for a fire cadet program but said that alone “will not create the diversity that is reflective of Boston.”She said the administration could do much more, such as be more transparent about personnel data, commission a comprehensive study on the civil service system, and raise the budget for the diversity officer.“My office has compiled a report listing 10 steps we could take as a city to make public safety jobs more accessible for people of color and women, which I will be sharing with the mayor,’’ Campbell said.Walsh hired outside counsel Kay Hodge in May to lead the inquiry, saying through a spokeswoman at the time that Hodge would review the department’s handling of harassment and discrimination allegations brought by women on the force.But the selection of Hodge raised questions about how she would square her role as a regular defense attorney for City Hall with the quest for an impartial inquiry. At the time, she was defending the city against a racial harassment claim brought by a black firefighter.In the report released this week, Hodge and her team said their review focused on the lack of female firefighters and exploring initiatives that would enable the department to bring on more women.But the report’s findings and language rankled women in the department and at City Hall, including Edwards, the city councilor, who said Hodge’s role raises doubts over the Walsh administration’s commitment to addressing harassment, safety, and employment issues in the department.“As a result, I do not trust that the administration can, will, or ever wanted an independent investigation and [a solution to] how to deal with systemic issues in the city,’’ Edwards said.Meghan Irons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.