When you work fighting fires for a living, the job always provides surprises and challenges. After a few years, you learn to expect the unexpected. But you never expect to be slandered and falsely attacked by an elected official.
Yet that’s what has happened to the Phoenix Fire Department over the past three weeks.
Nearly 2,000 firefighters — frontline workers for one of the premier public safety forces in the nation — have been unfairly dragged through the political muck by Phoenix Councilman Sal DiCiccio.
In print and on TV, the councilman has compared our city’s fire stations to “frat houses” and accused the department of fostering a “boys club” mentality that looks the other way when confronted by issues of sexual harassment.
His proof? A single lawsuit involving one female firefighter, a case the City Council last week voted to settle for about $46,000, plus attorney’s fees.
In no way am I trying to minimize the disturbing allegations contained in that lawsuit. No woman and no man should ever have to face discrimination in the workplace. But what I’d like to do that Councilman DiCiccio has not done is keep those allegations in perspective.
One case does not equate to a culture of intimidation. One case does not speak to a department rife with discrimination. One case should not be used to tar 2,000 firefighters all across the city.
A group of female firefighters came before the City Council last week and said the same thing: That never in their careers have they experienced or witnessed harassing behavior or discrimination. These speakers were firefighters so provoked by Councilman DiCiccio’s grandstanding that they, along with dozens of others female firefighters, signed a letter defending the fire department against DiCiccio’s charges. The councilman’s response? He demanded an investigation into “the petition” they signed and his absurd assertion that they’d been intimidated into signing it.
Apparently, the First Amendment applies only to politicians who distort the facts of a legal case for political gain, not to firefighters made sick by such slander.
Fortunately, no other member of the City Council stood with Councilman DiCiccio as he flung his mud far and wide. He stood alone without any other council support with his accusations of a fire department “cover-up,” demands for a criminal investigation, and a foot-stomping letter to Mayor Greg Stanton warning, “I am not going to let go of this.”
Rest assured, no one associated with the Phoenix Fire Department will let go of this either. We’ll do what we’ve always done: Continue to update our Professional Standards Guide and our training procedures and continue to work hard to ensure that every Phoenix firefighter serves the city in a manner that makes residents proud. Our members actually helped to develop the Professional Standards Guide, which now serves as a national model.
Nothing will be swept aside; no issues will be ignored. Thousands of Phoenix firefighters will continue to uphold the core values we’ve been trained on and that we live and work by daily, from tolerance to acceptance, integrity to teamwork.
Of course, you don’t have to believe me on this subject. Ask a firefighter. You know them from church or volunteer projects, or maybe from coaching your child’s Little League team. Just about every Phoenix residents knows a firefighter or two. We do our level best to be a force for good in communities all over this city.
That’s always been the “Phoenix Fire Department Way.” Rest assured, that won’t change — no matter how many falsehoods some politician spreads about us.
• Pete Gorraiz is president of the United Phoenix Fire Fighters. He has been a Phoenix firefighter for 35 years.