Four San Diego firefighters forced to ride in Pride parade file a complaint with state department
Station 5 crew seeks to sue San Diego Fire-Rescue Department
Published Thursday, 09-Aug-2007 in issue 1024
Four San Diego firefighters filed a complaint last week, saying their superiors forced them to ride in the Pride parade and that they were sexually harassed via taunts, obscene gestures and lewd behavior during the procession. An attorney for the four men has sent a request for the right to sue the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department to the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
The fire department issued a statement Monday saying stations are required to participate in parades and festivals in their districts, and outlined standards and procedures of a policy pertaining to the requirement, but did not cite an actual written policy. An attorney representing the firefighters said he’s unaware of any such policy.
The Station 5 firefighters include John Ghiotto, Alex Kane, Jason Hewitt and Chad Allison.
“While we were in the parade, I attempted to look straight ahead and I kept my headset on to not be subjected to the verbal and visual harassment,” wrote Allison, in a statement for the crew’s attorney. “Despite the headset, I still heard comments such as, ‘I want to see your fire hose,’ ‘Blow my hose,’ ‘Put out my fire,’ ‘You’re making me hot,’ ‘I have difficulty breathing, give me mouth to mouth.’”
In a release from the Thomas More Law Center, a Christian non-profit representing the firefighters, attorney and director of communications Brian Rooney blasted fire chief Tracy Jarman, a lesbian.
“Obviously the environment at the department has changed for the worse since Jarman has been appointed fire chief,” he said. “Participation should be a voluntary act – these four firefighters had no choice in the matter, and that is wrong, no matter what one’s sexual orientation.”
In a phone conversation Wednesday, however, Rooney said it wasn’t clear whether the direct order for Station 5 to participate in the parade came from Jarman.
Jarman released a statement Monday saying she apologized to the firefighters, and that the sexual harassment claim would be investigated.
“My department has an established tradition of accepting invitations from diverse community groups and organizations to march in their parades,” Jarman said in the statement. “And we participate in the LGBT Pride parade, which we’ve done for more than 15 years now.”
Jarman outlined the department’s policy for participation in parades and community festivals, but did not make a copy of the policy available by press time.
Jarman said this is the first time, to her knowledge, a sexual harassment complaint has been alleged by a crew working a parade or festival. The fire chief said the Equal Employment Investigative Office plans to initiate a fact-finding investigation.
According to a statement by the firefighters, another crew had volunteered to man the engine in the Pride parade, but Maurice Luque, public information officer for the San Diego Fire Department said the volunteers fell through.
“We will allow engine companies from other districts to volunteer or participate if they wish, and if that doesn’t work out, the engine company in the specific district has the assignment to participate in the parade,” Luque said.
Station 5 is located on Ninth Avenue in Hillcrest, and received the direct order from Jarman’s office to ride in the parade. However, it is as yet undetermined whether that order came from higher up in the department.
Callers to the Roger Hedgecock radio show on Monday split the issue. Some said the Pride parade was sexually explicit, and had “no integrity,” others said the complaint by firefighters was a “money grab.”
Rooney said the firefighters have received calls and threats after filing the complaint.
“They don’t have a problem with the community they work in,” Rooney said. “They don’t have a problem with homosexuals or homosexuality, per se. They love the community they work in; they serve it well, they risk their lives. They just didn’t want to be a part of the parade.”