Charges have recently been made by a few individuals that racial discrimination is widespread in the Buffalo Fire Department. While we are aware that racial discrimination does exist in varying degrees throughout our society and that some individual members of our department may harbor feelings of bias, we do not believe that it is rampant or pervasive.
On the contrary, we believe that if all factors are taken into consideration, most fair-minded people would say that racialrelations in the Buffalo Fire Department are good.
Through an affirmative-action program in place for the past 20 years, the number of African-American firefighters in our ranks has grown significantly. Today, minorities make up more than 30 percent of our uniform force. Every one of our 35 fire companies is integrated, and it should be noted that this integration was done on a voluntary basis since, according to the union contract, all positions in the Fire Department are bid by seniority.
In the Communications Division, one of the four dispatchers is a minority, while five of the 12 assistant dispatchers are African-American or Hispanic. The division also has one female dispatcher and one female assistant dispatcher assigned.
A number of minorities have served in the Fire Prevention Bureau over the past four years; two are currently assigned out of 10 bid positions. In the Fire Investigation Bureau, where the fire commissioner can directly assign personnel without adhering to the union contract, one half -- or five out of 10 -- of the investigators are minorities.
This administration has appointed two African-American deputy fire commissioners in the past four years. It should be noted that none had served during the 16 years of the previous administration.
There are currently five African-Americans, three Hispanics and one female holding the civil service rank of lieutenant. These figures are entirely too low and efforts are being made to correct them. A Tutorial Assistance Program for the upcoming fire lieutenant's exam scheduled for March 1998 is being sponsored by some members of the Buffalo Fire Department on their own time in conjunction with Common Council Member Byron Brown.
In August 1995, a drug-testing program for all members of this uniform force was agreed upon. It is a preventative measure designed to (a) protect the men and women of the Buffalo Fire Department, (b) protect the people and property of Buffalo and (c) protect the city from preventable lawsuits.
Before the end of 1995 and in each ensuing year, all members of the department were tested for the presence of the following drugs in their system: marijuana, cocaine, opiates, amphetamines and PCP. It should be emphasized that our goal is to rehabilitate our personnel in whom we have invested much, and we believe that we have succeeded in that endeavor.
While 64 fire personnel have tested positive to date, 17 firefighters (14 African-Americans, one Hispanic and two whites) have been dismissed. Almost 75 percent of those who tested positive have rehabilitated and appear to be drug-free.
Some department members have openly complained that they received too-strict discipline for infractions of the department's rules and regulations. But these firefighters received very vigorous defense from their union before discipline was meted out. In some cases, redress was sought in a court of law, to no avail. Others sought relief from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found no probable cause for discrimination.
Discipline, while strict, has been handed out on an even basis to white and black firefighters alike.
Cornelius J. Keane
Commissioner of Fire