Mothers, don't let your daughters grow up to be firefighters

Dateline: Thu 06 Sep 2007

Congratulations to Capt. Ruth M. Morrison of the Indianapolis Fire Department for winning a $350,000 judgment from the city. She had filed a federal suit charging harassment, discrimination and just plain meanness. The city coughed up and 'fessed up.

OK, I've seen "Rescue Me." I know firefighters are typically a hyper-macho lot given to blowing-off-steam crude humor, shenanigans, etc. But I also know a little about the Indianapolis Fire Department, having written columns about some of its problems in the past. No question, it has a history of harboring a few racist, sexist, homophobes in its ranks.

The story is always the same: the rumors start, anonymous complaints are made, nobody wants to talk on the record about what crazy insulting incident has taken place, the press gets a whiff of it, the cover is blown and promises are once again made from on high: "We're going to offer diversity/gende/sensitivity training. We're going to get it together."

This cover works swell until the next incident/complaint comes along, and today the city is $350,000 poorer for not cleaning house.

I also know that many firefighters, both men and women -- but mostly men, since out of 989 employees, only 59 are women -- are great guys. They're the bravehearts who battle flames to save lives; they're the guys who smile and wave and make nice with hero-worshiping little kids. So how can a job that has so much pride, so much integrity, get so crossways?

I don't know. I just know that I've talked to black, gays women in the department in the past off the record, and the problems run deep. If there are competency issues, address them. But don't disintegrate into name-calling and other stupid stuff.

Because we all lose.

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