EDITORIAL: It’s time for it to be #TimesUp on harassment at CFD
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It’s time for it to be #TimesUp on harassment within the Chicago Fire Department.
The fire department already faces allegations that women in its ranks have to endure aggressively vulgar behavior from male superiors.
Now, another black eye: A 6-foot-5 male firefighter reportedly attacked a female colleague during an argument at a South Side firehouse.
CFD brass, who filed a police report on the incident, have launched an internal investigation that could lead, as reporter Fran Spielman wrote, to a lengthy suspension for the male firefighter.
It absolutely should, if the investigation confirms witness accounts: that the male firefighter was the “aggressor,” that he grabbed the woman — one witness said he threw her across the room — pushed her, and squeezed her hard enough to leave bruises.
Violence like that cannot be tolerated in any workplace. The investigation should be wrapped up as quickly as possible, and any appropriate punishment doled out swiftly.
But then what?
CFD, and City Hall, can’t stop there. Resolving this incident is only the beginning of reforming a macho CFD culture, with a history of resistance to bringing women and African-Americans into its ranks.
In all, the city of Chicago has paid $92 million over the past nine years to settle discrimination lawsuits.
And just last week, the federal lawsuit filed by five female paramedics alleged widespread harassment in the fire department and a “code of silence” about reporting and disciplining it.
It would be bad enough to endure, in a traditional office, inappropriate text messages, unwanted grabbing and kissing, and having your male boss tell you his wife won’t have sex with him anymore, so you should — all of which are among the lawsuit’s allegations.
But imagine that in the close confines of a firehouse, where firefighters work, eat and live together on 24-hour shifts — and where women lack adequate separate bathrooms and sleeping quarters, according to the lawsuit. The environment, let’s admit it, makes personal interactions more challenging, but that’s no excuse for harassment.
It goes without saying that firefighting is a risky profession that always makes those “Top 10 most dangerous jobs” lists. Firefighters risk far more than 99 percent of us do when they answer a call, rushing into burning homes or climbing ladders through billowing smoke to save a grandmother or a toddler. Paramedics do their utmost to save lives.
We don’t want to diminish the job that most of them do, courageously and with integrity, every day.
We just want to make sure that every one of them, man and woman, can do that job without being harassed.
Time needs to be up on that, at CFD — and every other workplace.