Over the past few days, anger has surfaced over alleged “racial bias and unequal treatment” within the New Britain Fire Department, culminating in a protest rally Tuesday night.
While some firefighters say the discrimination is long-standing, the current spark that ignited this week’s actions was the department’s failure to honor its first black chief, the late Mark Carr, in the same way as his predecessors; that is, with a picture on the fire house wall. The current chief, Thomas Ronalter, said the picture would be put up after the stairway was painted - something that had been delayed several times. As a protest, Firefigher Daylon Hudson removed all the portraits.
That, of course, was simply the spark. Those attending the rally said that they were also speaking out against the culture of the fire department, described as a “good old boys network.”
Fortunately, as soon as she became aware of the problem, Mayor Erin Stewart took action, promising to bring in an independent investigator to review the allegations, and vowing to take appropriate action if necessary “to ensure that the city of New Britain continues to be a welcoming place to live and work.”
We are glad to see her taking these charges seriously, whether or not the investigator uncovers any overt or intentional bias. What one person sees as a decades-old tradition can be perceived as discrimination to another. An outside investigator may be able to shed light on the differing viewpoints and help the department leadership become more open to all its members.
That is the very least that these heroic firefighters deserve.