CHICAGO– Three years after racist transmissions over fire radio reopened decades-old wounds in the Chicago Fire Department, the city’s 5,000 firefighters and paramedics will be required to undergo three hours of sensitivity training.
The $400,000 contract with Bonner Group LLC calls for rank-and-file employees to be removed from service in groups of 25 for on-the-job sessions that mirror the in-service training they do to keep pace with the latest firefighting techniques.
Fire Department brass have already gone through sensitivity training that includes role-playing and education about the customs of various ethnic and racial groups. The new initiative marks the first time that Fire Commissioner Ray Orozco has extended the mandate to the rank and file.
“The commissioner has been wanting to do this for some time. It’s part of his mission. When you put the uniform on, you have to represent the city and the Fire Department without bias,” said Fire Department spokesman Larry Langford.
He noted that there have been no major incidents of racial intolerance in the Fire Department since the fire radio transmissions of 2004 hastened Cortez Trotter’s appointment as Chicago’s first African-American fire commissioner.
But, he said, “We don’t have to wait for something bad to happen before we do something that should be done. This diversity training should help people shed any biases or misconceptions they have while educating department members to the differences of the various people who make up our city.”
In 1999, a $410,000 study by TriData Inc. portrayed the Chicago Fire Department as an “old boys’ network” that divided employees between black and white, strikers and non-strikers and firefighters and paramedics.
The raucous 1990 retirement party at Engine 100 — videotape shows firefighters drinking, using racial slurs and exposing themselves — was the most publicized example of racial intolerance. But there were others.A black firefighter assigned to a predominantly white firehouse had a swastika painted on his locker. And a Native American firefighter was the subject of a vicious campaign of physical and verbal abuse.