Female LAFD firefighters face hazing, retaliation, battalion chief testifies
Female firefighters are being hazed and retaliated against by male firefighters at the Los Angeles Fire Department, according to graphic testimony given at a city commission hearing this week.
LAFD Battalion Chief Kris Larson, president of the Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service, told the LAFD’s Board of Fire Commissioners that female firefighters refuse to file complaints because the LAFD is “gossipy” and they will face retaliation.
“There are women that are to this day cleaning feces off their bathroom floors or their toilets, left by men, and it’s unacceptable,” Larson said. “They don’t want to make a comment about it, because they know if a complaint goes in at a fire station, that’s going to happen.”
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti has made increasing the number of women in the Fire Department a major goal. Some senior women in the LAFD, and his own appointees, say the mayor could be pushing harder.
The Times reported in July on the “frat house” culture that has driven out some female firefighters from the department and renewed scrutiny on an agency that’s long faced accusations of discrimination.
One former LAFD firefighter, Katie Becker, told The Times about the harassment she said she endured, including an instance where the word “junk” was written on her helmet. She also said male firefighters would “destroy” the women’s bathroom. “People would pee or defecate on the floor,” Becker said. “They make it clear that you’re not welcome as a woman.”
Rebecca Ninburg, an LAFD commissioner, also recently described the department as a “very hostile work environment” for women during her recent deposition in the sexual harassment case involving a former aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Some female firefighters have offered sharply different assessments. Chelsey Grigsby, who works out of Station 20 in Echo Park, told The Times last month that she has “never been treated unfairly or felt that I cannot speak my mind or anything like that, ever.”
Larson, with Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service, gave a short presentation about her 113-member group to commission members at Tuesday’s meeting. She also provided a stark summary of what female firefighters endure.
“There is absolute retribution within this organization,” Larson said. She also said that female firefighters don’t trust the department’s complaint system and don’t feel that their complaint will be “fairly administered.”
Female probationary firefighters are “trying to keep their head down,” Larson said. “They’re more concerned about keeping their job than they are trying to report discrimination.”
In an interview Wednesday, Larson said there are many “wonderful” people at the LAFD. But at some stations, firefighters are making it difficult for women and other minorities, she said.
Speaking at Tuesday’s meeting, Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph Terrazas and Commissioner Delia Ibarra urged Larson to report complaints of harassment and retaliation.
Terrazas said the department has to follow a due process outlined by the city charter, the state’s Firefighters Bill of Rights, agreements with the fire union and more. “I do not discount what Chief Larson is saying,” he said.
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“This department takes these things very seriously,” he said. “But we can’t act on rumor and innuendo.”
Ninburg, replying to Terrazas, said the chief’s solution “is part of the problem” because women are too scared to file complaints. She urged him to “create a safe environment” so firefighters feel safe coming forward.
Garcetti spokesman Harrison Wollman said Wednesday that “the incidents described are very troubling, and Mayor Garcetti has absolutely zero tolerance for intimidation or discrimination of any kind in the workplace.” Wollman said the mayor is committed to finishing an assessment of women’s experiences at the department and making “necessary changes.”
City Councilwoman Monica Rodriguez, who chairs the city’s public safety committee, said Wednesday that the city has “zero tolerance” for harassment and that any complaint demands an “immediate and thorough investigation.”
“The city is legally required to protect victims from retribution when reporting cases of harassment or discrimination in any department, and we must vigorously protect those with the courage to stand up and speak out against abhorrent conduct,” Rodriguez said.
The Fire Department has a history of incidents involving fecal matter and the harassment of Black firefighters, according to a 2018 lawsuit filed against the city by firefighter Emanuel Brown. Brown said he found feces in a compartment where he stored his jacket and breathing apparatus.
He later alleged he was subjected to harassment, retaliation and race-based discrimination for having reported misconduct.
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