NEW BRITAIN - City officials are hoping that an independent attorney hired to investigate racism within the New Britain Fire Department will finish with interviews by the end of the month.
The firefighter whose act of protest sparked the investigation wants to see the probe lead to change within the department.
“We, as firefighters, deserve better from the leadership of the fire department, as residents, we deserve better from the leadership of the fire department,” said Daylon Hudson, a 10-year veteran of the department who came forward in March with allegations of racism in the department.
Attorney Stephen Bonafonte has been interviewing members of the fire department for more than a month after Hudson’s claims came to light in late April.
During a fact-finding hearing about the incident, Hudson told Chief Thomas Ronalter and a city attorney that he had removed the photos of former white fire chiefs in February as a way of protesting racism. Hudson was also calling attention to the fact that the photo of Chief Mark Carr, the city’s first black chief, was never placed with the rest on the wall at headquarters.
Carr retired in 2012 and died unexpectedly in 2014.
Hudson, his family members and Carr’s widow have repeatedly asked Ronalter to place the photo with the rest.
Ronalter told Hudson in February that the wall needed to be painted before Carr’s photo could go up.
The backlash prompted Mayor Erin Stewart to hire Bonafonte to look into the claims of Hudson and others who have been recently disciplined that the fire department is a “good old boys network.”
The city also hired the same consultant the police department uses to conduct diversity training within the fire department.
“For 10 years I’ve worked, I’ve lived in this environment,” Hudson said Thursday. “I hope it (the investigation) proves the things I’ve said are not false. As long as the investigation is done fairly, I think for sure they’ll find the system has racial bias. I know it’s hard to call someone a racist, but I think what they’ll find is that the higher-ups engage in racism and favoritism.”
The command staff of the fire department has been interviewed by Bonafonte or city personnel director Linda Guard and the interviews now are open to any firefighter that wants to speak, Stewart said.
“A lot of individuals have come forward, which is why it’s taking so long,” Stewart said. “Some of the interviews are leading to other interviews.”
Bonafonte is hoping to finish the interviews by the end of this month and then will spend two weeks writing up a comprehensive report, looking at the information gathered from the interviews, Stewart said.
“He’s on an information-gathering hunt,” the mayor said. “He will be looking at facts, not providing an opinion.”
Ultimately, Stewart is hoping city officials will be able to answer the question of whether “there is a tendency or culture of racism within the department.”
At the same time, the command staff of the fire department has received diversity training which is now being provided to ,all the firefighters.
“She’s doing a very good job,” Stewart said of the consultant providing the training. “It is cultural competency training that forces you outside of your comfort zone. It’s about looking at your own perceptions.”
Lisa Backus can be reached at 860-801-5066 or firstname.lastname@example.org.