Los Angeles firefighters and women’s rights defenders on Monday called on Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas to resign following allegations that female firefighters face hazing, bullying and sexual harassment from their male counterparts.
Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service, the Southern California Christian Leadership Conference and other groups held a press conference to condemn the treatment of women at LAFD.
“Today we are calling for an end to the good old boys’ club in LA Fire,” said Colieka Siegel, president of the California National Women’s Organization. “Mayor Eric Garcetti, you have a job,” she later added.
Jennifer Wilcox, a 13-year veteran firefighter, cited “rampant sexism, racism, harassment and violence” and urged Garcetti to deliver on her 2013 pledge to make “much needed cultural changes” for the department. …
Lauren Andrade, a veteran firefighter from Orange County, read a letter she said was from a woman in Los Angeles. According to her letter, the woman said she was raped by another firefighter at the fire station.
Andrade said the incident took place about six years ago and the woman wished to remain anonymous. LAFD Battalion Chief Chris Larson, president of Women in the Los Angeles Fire Department, told The Times that the woman was reluctant to cooperate with investigators because she feared retaliation and lost her job.
LAFD spokeswoman Cheryl Gethuise said in a statement that the department took action after learning of the complaint. “We immediately conducted an internal administrative investigation and referred the case to the LAPD for a criminal investigation,” Gethuiza said. “LAPD detectives did not file a criminal case.”
Monday’s press conference ended with months of stories about the treatment of women in the ward. An August Times report detailed the culture of “brotherhood” in the fire department. LAist.com on Friday reported allegations of harassment and discrimination, with one woman firefighter saying she faced threats of sexual assault after filing a workplace complaint.
A few hours after the press conference, Garcetti reaffirmed his support for Terrazas and said he had “complete trust” in the boss.
“He and all LAFD executives know that I am strongly opposed to sexism, racism or harassment in our fire departments or any other workplace – and I expect them to act promptly when any allegations of abuse are brought forward.” Garcetti said. …
The mayor also said he is working “to accelerate transformative institutional reforms to bring about fundamental changes that we all recognize must exist throughout this city and this department.”
Terrazas said he recently met with representatives of the Los Angeles Fire Department to “discuss joint initiatives to protect and improve our work environment.”
“I respect LAWFS and all of our other fire service organizations and will continue to communicate and meet openly to move forward together,” Terrazas said.
A 2019 study by Women in the Los Angeles Fire Department found widespread sexism in fire stations. The women said they were victims of sexist remarks, and nearly half of them said they hesitated to report misconduct lest they be labeled “girls like that,” according to one of the women firefighters.
One of Garcetti’s commissioners on the Fire Commission, Rebecca Nienburg, testified during her testimony in a sexual harassment case involving a former Garcetti advisor this year that the LAFD is a “very hostile work environment for women.”
“It’s not safe to talk to women. They cannot talk about what happened to them. It’s not safe, ”Nienburg said.
Larson, president of Women in the Los Angeles Fire Department, also testified at a hearing with the fire department last month that women firefighters refuse to file complaints of bullying and abuse because they fear retribution. She said the female firefighters did not trust the department’s grievance system and did not think their grievance would be “fairly handled.”
At a press conference on Monday, Larson accused Terrazas of leaving “women and minorities at risk.”
“I’m 31,” Larson said. “I hear stories of young women at work who have the same problems as I did when I came to work. I thought we were trying to fix this culture, but clearly we didn’t. “