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More on the HFD sex discrimination lawsuit

Is anyone surprised that a lot more female firefighters have come forward to describe incidents of harassment at HFD since the initial story was published? Because if you are, I don’t think you’ve been paying much attention to the news over the past year or so.

Nearly 10 years after a sexual harassment scandal roiled the ranks, the Houston Fire Department remains a hostile work environment for some women, according to more than half-dozen current and former firefighters who spoke to the Houston Chronicle about workplace conditions and gender bias.

“It’s still uncomfortable,” said one longtime female HFD veteran, who like most, did not want to be named for fear of retribution. “Houston still has not embraced the diversity of women within the department.”

And while women have made gains since the incidents in 2009 led to a widespread investigation, a Department of Justice lawsuit filed recently against the city has brought renewed scrutiny to gender issues at HFD, where fewer than 4 percent of the department’s 4,000 firefighters are women.

Some women have left the department in frustration. Others stay silent, enduring daily tensions to pursue their lifelong dreams, they told the Chronicle.

“It’s a Catch-22,” said another longtime female firefighter. “Most grin and bear it. They don’t want that label, ‘she’s a problem child,’ or, ‘Don’t say anything around her or she’ll file a grievance.’

“I just want to be treated fair.”


One aspiring firefighter said she’d always wanted to join the Houston Fire Department.

She put her financial security on hold to go through the months-long academy, earning just $800 every other week. She thought she’d find a teamlike atmosphere but was met instead with instructors who she believed wanted her to fail.

She quit on the verge of graduation and found a better-paying job as a paramedic elsewhere.

“I have no desire to work for a place like that,” said the former trainee, who attended HFD’s academy within the last five years. “I’d rather drive an hour or more to a different fire department where people treat others like human beings, and you don’t get discriminated against because you weren’t born a male.”

Another woman who recently attended the academy described an atmosphere where instructors did not acknowledge women and appeared to purposely sabotage training routines to make it more difficult for them. In one instance, she said, an instructor made her carry a fully charged firehouse into a burning space in a more difficult posture than she’d been trained, and with less line available on the ground.

She’d hoped to find a “family of people that support each other,” but said she was disappointed.

She described a hostile work environment where her male colleagues routinely refer to women as “bitches,” and frequently make derogatory comments after responding to medical calls where the people they were helping were a gay or lesbian, she said.

“I see a lot of sexism and racism,” she said. “It’s really harder being a female in the fire department, point blank … You have this idea how it would be and it’s not like that at all.”

See here for the background, and click over for more, because there is more. This is what I mean when I said there are plenty of people at HFD who know who did what to whom. The higher-ups are all saying the right things – Chief Pena, the union officials, etc – but we need to hear it from the rank and file as well. If HFD wants to rid itself of the “cloud” that persists over it, there needs to be a top-to-bottom commitment to root this kind of behavior out. I guarantee you, HFD knows who the bad actors are. What are they going to do about them?

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  1. David Fagan says:

    Was The Fire Chief Pena here in 2009? Also, if “we need to hear it from the rank and file as well” and the fire fighters say no one listens to them on all the other issues about compensation, apparatus conditions, and being skewered in the media right and left, why do we expect them to feel we would listen to the rank and file on this issue? How does the stress of all the issues in the fire department affect this issue?

  2. Bill Daniels says:

    “….Others stay silent, enduring daily tensions to pursue their lifelong dreams, they told the Chronicle.”

    Meanwhile, 3,840 male firefighters endure daily tensions to pursue THEIR lifelong dreams, always being fearful of saying or doing something that might be labeled as inappropriate. That’s a toxic work environment. Would you enjoy going to work knowing that every single thing you do do not do during your shift will potentially be used against you?

    Say good morning. Problem. Don’t say good morning. Problem. Ask how the weekend went. Problem. Don’t ask about the weekend. Problem.

  3. Robbie Westmoreland says:

    Yes, the tragedy of firefighters having their lives ruined for saying “good morning” is really under-reported and totally not a fantasy situation you just made up, Bill.

    It really isn’t a challenge to work alongside women without referring to them as bitches, urinating on the walls of their facilities, refusing to talk to them, etc. I do it every day, saying hello to female co-workers, asking them about their lives away from work, and generally being a friendly, respectful professional. 26 years without any complaints, and counting. If the troglodytes are afraid of complaints, I’m inclined to think that the problem lies with the troglodytes, and not with the women.

    The City still hasn’t answered the complaint filed by the Department of Justice yet.

    All that said, something does need to be done to improve the overall funding and pay scales at HFD.

  4. I have two daughters. If men showed women the respect they showed their Grandmothers (as it pertains to sexual attraction) then this wouldn’t be near the problem that it is. I have two daughters age 20 and 17. I am now convinced that some men are dogs and can’t control themselves. I would make a poor Juror for the City in a Sexual Harassment lawsuit.

  5. Bp says:

    Good job drumming up fake news from 10 years ago! You want to know the reason women won’t work for HFD is pay. Starting pay for a female is 28k a laughable wage in 2018. Funny how other cities like Austin have no issues recruiting females. The only discrimination I see is wage discrimination and It needs to STOP!