Nationwide, Firefighters Escalated Claims of Discrimination, Racial Bias in 2020

By Anne Branigin,

Back in July, Black firefighters in Winston-Salem, N.C., protested outside Station 1 firehouse, demanding the termination of the current chief of the fire department and asking the city to seriously address years of racial and sexual harassment claims in the department.

With little movement from the department or the city, those firefighters escalated their complaints last month, filing a grievance that, once again, called for Chief William “Trey” Mayo to be fired for encouraging a toxic, racist workplace culture.

Among the firefighters speaking out is Timika Ingram, who recently told the Associated Press she endured “pain, sleepless nights, suffering, anxiety” as a result of her coworkers’ harassment; one doctor said the stress she experienced at the job caused her to develop lupus.

Photo: Firefighter Montreal (Shutterstock)

It wasn’t the job itself—a harrowing, risky and occasionally life-threatening one—that caused Ingram to feel this way. As she tells the AP, she had trained hard to become a firefighter. What got to her was all the experiences at the station house: Ingram says firefighters placed nails under the wheels of her pickup truck; threw her new cell-phone on the roof of the station house, making her unavailable to her young children; stole her food and hid her uniforms; and poured tobacco juice in her boots.

Thomas Penn, a 28-year veteran of the fire department and leader of the group Omnibus, an organization of Black firefighters agitating for change in the city, said conditions for Black firefighters have actually degraded under Chief Mayo.

“It’s a festering problem that has become even more disease-ridden and even more detrimental to the life of the individuals who work here,” Penn told the AP.

The group claims that two white captains discussed running over Black Lives Matter demonstrators this year; in 2017, a firefighter taking a rope and knots class made a noose.

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