WILL FRAT-BOY CULTURE CHANGE?Byline: KERRY CAVANAUGH Staff Writer
Los Angeles Los Angeles (lôs ăn`jələs, lŏs, ăn`jəlēz'), city (1990 pop. 3,485,398), seat of Los Angeles co., S Calif.; inc. 1850. Fire Chief William Bamattre was done in this week by the same firehouse culture he was promoted in 1996 to reform.
In recent weeks, snapshots were splashed across television screens and the Internet showing firefighters engaged in practical jokes: hosing down colleagues strapped to a gurney gurney /gur·ney/ (gur´ne) a wheeled cot used in hospitals.
n. pl. gur·neys
A metal stretcher with wheeled legs, used for transporting patients. , smearing mustard over a restrained firefighter and appearing to shave another firefighter's pubic hair pubic hair,
n hair in the pubic region; secondary sexual characteristic that develops during puberty. .
And along with the photos came the painful stories of those victimized by firehouse harassment: urine in a woman's mouthwash mouthwash /mouth·wash/ (mouth´wosh) a solution for rinsing the mouth.
A medicated liquid for cleaning the mouth and treating diseased mucous membranes. , dog food in an African-American's spaghetti dinner and endless drills designed not to train, but to injure and humiliate.
Rowdy or rough play.
rough or rowdy play
Noun 1. or harassment, the stories shocked the public and political leaders.
And as the City Council and mayor considered spending $2.7 million to settle a lawsuit filed in the wake of the dog food incident -- and after spending $1 million to settle three other firefighter lawsuits -- city leaders looked to Bamattre and demanded to know, Why haven't you fixed this yet?
Bamattre is the second fire chief to come under criticism for behavior problems in the Los Angeles Fire Department The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD), also known as the Los Angeles City Fire Department to distinguish it from the Los Angeles County Fire Department. It is the agency that provides fire protection and emergency medical services for the city of Los Angeles. .
Former Chief Donald Manning, Bamattre's predecessor, angered city leaders when he blamed disgruntled dis·grun·tle
tr.v. dis·grun·tled, dis·grun·tling, dis·grun·tles
To make discontented.
[dis- + gruntle, to grumble (from Middle English gruntelen; see workers for a scathing audit that found that the agency engaged in widespread harassment and discrimination in its hiring and promotions.
Three months later, he resigned under pressure from then-Mayor Richard Riordan Richard J. Riordan (born May 1, 1930) is a Republican politician from California, U.S. who served as the California Secretary of Education from 2003–2005 and as Mayor of Los Angeles from 1993–2001. Riordan ran for Governor of California unsuccessfully in 2002. .
Repeat of history
``You've got to look at it as history repeating "History Repeating" is the 26th episode of the ABC television series, Brothers & Sisters. The episode is also the third episode for the show's second season. It aired on Sunday October 14, 2007. ,'' said Armando Hogan, president of the 300-member Los Angeles chapter of the Stentorians, an association of African-American firefighters.
``In fairness to the fire chief, you can't do this by yourself. You need buy-in and support. If you don't get buy-in and support, you're doomed to failure.''
Indeed, some city leaders and Fire Department insiders said Bamattre could do only so much to change the culture, which thrives on pranks and bonding rituals designed to test newcomers and create camaraderie among those who look to one another in life-threatening situations.
``Nothing changes in the Fire Department, and it doesn't matter who the fire chief is. If they want to play frat boys, they're going to play frat boys,'' said David W. Fleming, who served on the civilian Fire Commission from 1993 to 2001, when Bamattre was promoted from battalion chief to the top post. If the city is serious about stopping horseplay, Fleming said, the firefighters union, which represents the rank and file, must lead the charge.
But many firefighters, including those at the head of United Firefighters of Los Angeles City, are wary of heavier discipline, which they say is doled out Adj. 1. doled out - given out in portions
apportioned, dealt out, meted out, parceled out
distributed - spread out or scattered about or divided up unfairly by department officials.
Earlier this week, as criticism of Bamattre mounted, outgoing UFLAC UFLAC United Firefighters of Los Angeles City President Pat McOsker said the Fire Department's leadership is responsible for setting the tenor of the agency -- and must be responsible for changing it.
``Firefighters are good soldiers; they're good followers. The message starts at the top. That's where they get their message on what's tolerated and encouraged.''
Yet while Bamattre denounced a ``disturbing trend'' of hazing and harassment against women and minorities, he also criticized what he saw as a weak disciplinary system that gave him little authority over the situation.
``We're policing ourselves,'' he said in a May 2005 interview with the Daily News. ``Yet I'm held accountable, but I don't have the tools available to me to enforce that accountability.''
In the 18 months since then, Bamattre has said he is essentially powerless to outlaw the rogue behavior that infuses the culture of the 3,600-member department.
Indeed, despite a zero-tolerance policy Noun 1. zero-tolerance policy - any policy that allows no exception; "a zero-tolerance policy toward pedophile priests"
policy - a line of argument rationalizing the course of action of a government; "they debated the policy or impolicy of the proposed legislation" for harassment and hazing, a survey by Controller Laura Chick found that 60 percent of respondents had willingly participated in hazing.
The solution, many city leaders say, is to separate the disciplinary system from the Fire Department's chain of command.
``From the things we're seeing ... it's apparent that discipline is not a priority,'' said City Councilman Bernard Parks, a former chief of the Los Angeles Police Department "LAPD" and "L.A.P.D." redirect here. For other uses, see LAPD (disambiguation).
This article or section is written like an . . ``What I have found in year after year, when you slack off on discipline, you have problems.''
Parks and Councilwoman Janice Hahn asked this week to create an inspector general position within the Fire Department to ensure that hazing and harassment is stopped.
``I don't buy that we can't change the culture. The taxpayers can't continue to pay for the culture,'' Hahn said. ``I don't think the message will get through until people lose their job over this.''