New Report Recommends Changes At HFD

Five months after an incident involving racist and sexist graffiti scrawled on the lockers of two female Houston firefighters, two law firms have released an assessment of HFD policies regarding harassment and discrimination. The report comes with a list of recommendations. Jack Williams reports.

“We believe that our recommendations will aid HFD in its core mission of saving lives and protecting property.”

Scott Lemond is an attorney with the Lemond and Lemond law firm and was one of six lawyers who interviewed 112
firefighters over the past few months. The City of Houston paid for the review in an effort to figure out why HFD
has a reputation for discrimination and harassment. The report contains a number of recommendations, things
like improving the department’s training program, recruiting a more diverse fire-fighting force and improving leadership from the top down.

“Supervisors must understand that their failure to act upon witnessing an act of harassment or discrimination is just
as bad as engaging in the conduct themselves and that type of putting ones head in the sand attitude is not going to
be allowed at the fire department and will be met with some sort of punishment.” 

The assessment points out that HFD deals with the same issues that other large organizations do, with 4000
firefighters who live together as a family much of the time. Merri Schneider-Vogel is an attorney with Thompson &
Horton. She says overall, firefighters didn’t report widespread discrimination or harassment.

“From talking to the firefighters, we did not see the same type of issues that originally caused us to be engaged. The
types of gender discrimination, race discrimination, incidences that got the attention in the summer, we did not see those incidences pervasive throughout the department as we talked to people.”

The assessment also recommends an improved complaint process and a single policy concerning harassment and
discrimination instead of a maze of policies and rules. This is Houston Fire Chief Phil Boriskie.

“I’ll tell you at the very beginning, the Houston Fire Department welcomed this study, very honestly. Now that it’s over, we find the recommendations very useful. Quite frankly, we embrace them and we look forward to implementation of these recommendations. We believe the Houston Fire Department will be better.”  

Boriskie did question why it’s taken more than five months for the city’s Office of Inspector General to complete the
investigation into the racist and sexist graffiti, saying there was no reason for the probe to last longer than 60 days.