WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Some Winston-Salem firefighters continue to bring attention to actions within the fire department they've said are blatant racism. This, as city officials received a 42-page report from Charlotte based consultants, WPR Consulting LLC., on the culture and climate of the fire department.
According to the report, the "WSFD itself, is not a racist organization, however, there are individuals employed by the department who are viewed as racists."
In October, a group of Black firefighters with the Winston-Salem Fire Department filed a grievance with the city. They want colleagues whom they say are responsible for racism as well as the fire chief out.
They say Chief William Mayo failed to discipline at least four white firefighters who created a hostile work environment. They are also demanding answers to the investigation of their claims.
"Simply the department would not listen to us, the city was not listening to us," said Thomas Penn, a Winston Salem Fire Fighter.
An African-American, Thomas Penn Jr. has been an engineer with the Winston Salem Fire Department for 28 years. He said he and fellow African-American firefighters endured outright racism from at least four white colleagues named in documents.
The firefighters decided to take action and they got together and formed OMNIBUS. OMNIBUS is an umbrella group made up of the city's current and retired minority firefighters. It was set up to collectively advocate for the firefighters in this matter.
"We are still at this stage, nearly seven months later, still suffering under the same violations that occurred, that caused this," Penn said.
The violations OMNIBUS names in the complaint include an incident where a training captain is accused of tying a noose during a knot tying lesson.
Another complaint is about a Facebook post where one captain reposted a video from the Civil Rights era and alluded to unleashing dogs on peaceful protesters. A separate Facebook post appeared to encourage running over protesters with a car.
OMNIBUS said one captain commented about Charlotte protesters and posted a photo of guns. He then wrote, "Heading down to Charlotte for supper this evening...I'm bringing my own silverware."
WFMY News 2 reached out to all individuals named in the documents but did not hear back from most of them. Only one person named in the complaint responded and he said he had "no comments on the issue at the time."
A social media friend of one of the firefighters who engaged in one of the Facebook conversations in question posted this:
"They should be thankful slaves were brought over or they would all still be in Africa, I'm sick of this crap."
Penn told WFMY News 2 the person was fired from their job which was listed on their social media page. He said his white firefighter colleague didn't condemn the person for the comments and let the conversation continue and therefore should be fired also.
"These individuals are not only within the department, they are thriving. When I open my email and I see their emails across the screen, I know they are there. I know their racist attitudes are still there and they are condoned by our city leaders and that's something that is detrimental to us as firemen," Penn said.
Winston-Salem's Assistant City Manager Damon Dequenne and the Assistant Attorney Camille French both said because this involves a confidential personnel matter, the city will not talk about it. However, on Dec. 16, city officials sent this response:
"The city hired a consultant to perform a cultural assessment of our fire department managed by the City Manager's office. The project is nearing completion, with the final focus groups conducted just this week. A presentation of the findings and recommendations from the project is currently scheduled for our January Public Safety Committee meeting on January 11th at 6 p.m."
The now released report makes 19 recommendations, including adopting and implementing diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plans for addressing the issues identified in the report.
The consultants added three appendices with training modules to help the department address weaknesses identified. The report is posted on the city’s website, CityofWS.org.
WFMY News 2 spoke to Mayo about the allegations and he said he couldn't discuss the issue as it was an ongoing investigation. Mayo said he provided his own report as part of the process.
"Our job is unique in form and fashion and we actually live with these guys. It's disheartening when you become a fireman, and then now even still realize that you're not part of the brotherhood that everybody so vehemently claims," Penn said.