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Female firefighters, civil rights advocates call for LAFD chief’s removal

Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas, center, and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.
Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas, center, and Mayor Eric Garcetti in 2020. A group of female firefighters and civil rights advocates on Monday called for Terrazas to step down.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles firefighters and advocates for women on Monday called on Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas to resign after allegations that female firefighters face hazing, bullying and sexual harassment by their male colleagues.

Representatives of Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California and other groups held a news conference to denounce the treatment of women at the LAFD

“Today, we call for an end to the good old boys club at L.A. Fire,” said Kolieka Siegel, president of California National Organization for Women. “Mayor Eric Garcetti, you have work to do,” she added later.

Jennifer Wilcox, a 13-year veteran of the Fire Department, cited the “rampant sexism, racism, harassment and abuse” and called on Garcetti to follow through on his 2013 promise to bring “much-needed change to the culture” of the department.

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Lauren Andrade, a veteran firefighter in Orange County, read a letter that she said was from a woman at the LAFD. The woman said she was raped by a fellow firefighter at a firehouse, according to her letter.

Andrade said that the incident happened about six years ago and the woman wanted to remain anonymous. LAFD Battalion Chief Kris Larson, president of Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service, told The Times that the woman didn’t want to cooperate with investigators because she was fearful of retaliation and losing her job.

LAFD spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza said in a statement that the department acted after learning about the complaint. “We immediately conducted an internal administrative investigation and referred the case to the LAPD to conduct a criminal investigation,” Getuiza said. “LAPD detectives did not file a criminal report.”

The news conference Monday capped months of stories about the treatment of women at the department. A Times report in August detailed the “frat house” culture at the Fire Department. LAist.com on Friday reported on allegations of retaliation and discrimination, with one female firefighter stating that she faced threats of sexual violence after she filed a workplace complaint.

Hours after the news conference, Garcetti reaffirmed his support for Terrazas and said he has “full confidence” in the chief.

“He and the entire LAFD leadership know that I have zero tolerance for sexism, racism, or harassment in our firehouses or any other workplace — and I expect them to act with urgency when any allegations of abuse are brought to their attention,” Garcetti said.

The mayor also said that he is working “to accelerate transformative, institutional reforms to bring about the fundamental change we all recognize needs to exist everywhere in this city and in this department.”

Terrazas said he recently met with the Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service to “discuss collaborative initiatives to protect and enhance our work environments.”

“I respect the LAWFS and all our other fire service organizations and will continue to have open communication and meetings to move forward together,” Terrazas said.

A 2019 study by Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service found widespread sexism at fire stations. The women said they were targeted with sexist remarks and nearly half said they hesitated to report misconduct, lest they be labeled “that kind of girl,” according to one female firefighter.

One of Garcetti’s commissioners on the Fire Commission, Rebecca Ninburg, testified during a court deposition in a sexual harassment case involving Garcetti’s former advisor this year that the LAFD is a “a very hostile work environment for women.”

Female firefighters face harassment and retaliation at the Los Angeles Fire Department, according to graphic testimony given at a fire commission meeting.

“The women are not safe to speak. They cannot talk about their — what has happened to them. It is not safe to do that,” Ninburg said.

Larson, president of Los Angeles Women in the Fire Service, also testified at a fire commission hearing last month that female firefighters refuse to file complaints about the hazing and abuse because they fear retaliation. She said female firefighters don’t trust the department’s complaint system and don’t think that their complaint will be “fairly administered.”

At Monday’s news conference, Larson accused Terrazas of leaving “women and minorities in harm’s way.”

“I have 31 years on,” Larson said. “I’m hearing stories from younger women on the job that are experiencing the same kind of issues that I had when I came on. I thought we had tried to fix this culture and clearly we haven’t.”


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