San Francisco city officials have launched a formal probe into allegations of racism and hazing at their fire training academy, NBC Bay Area has learned.
The probe, which began this week, is in apparent response to allegations spelled out in a letter sent by eight African American trainees to Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White.
The eight authors, who called themselves the “brave men of color,” wrote that they were offended by the use of the N-word in a training session and alleged “retaliatory, demeaning, punishing, and racist/sexist behavior” at the academy.
In rebuttal, other classmates have signed a petition saying, “each of us is treated fairly, without any indication of racism, sexism, or favoritism’’ by the academy training cadre.
This week, three would-be firefighters were dismissed – two of whom may be among those who complained.
That underscores the urgency of the investigation, says Joe Alioto Veronese, a member of the city’s fire commission.
“We have to get to the bottom of that,’’ says Veronese, who is also a civil rights lawyer.
“If you fail out of the academy you’re out -- there’s a long list to get back into the academy,” he adds. “We need to make sure we are addressing these issues now.”
Veronese says he hopes the probe will determine if the complaints are legitimate or the product of disgruntled recruits unable to meet standards.
“If this is a matter of actual racial animus, let’s get to the bottom of that, let’s root that out. That’s a cancer we need to remove that immediately.”
Fire department spokesman Jonathan Baxter confirms the complaint is under investigation by the city but said he could not comment further on a personnel matter.
Chief Hayes-White declined to be interviewed for this story.
The Black Firefighters Association, whose board members spoke out on behalf of the eight recruits, said in a statement: “We look forward to the City Attorney’s Office taking the necessary steps to conduct a complete, thorough and unbiased investigation."