It appears that FDNY officials were offended and shared their feelings in recent news reports after Captain Paul Washington addressed students at a workshop back in March. The former Vulcan Society President and 29-year FDNY veteran was the guest speaker at an Urban Male Leadership Academy event at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. Reports surfaced after the presentation, which is on YouTube, when Washington said that the fire department is really different from how it is portrayed on TV and in the movies.

“We do not run into burning buildings,” he said. “It can be dangerous, but it’s not nearly as dangerous as people think,”

Those statements led to a backdraft of comments. Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro stated three times that firefighters do run into burning buildings, during an Oct. 11 memorial ceremony. Apparently in response to Washington’s remarks. On behalf of the commissioner, Deputy Fire Commissioner Frank Gribbon told the Chief Leader newspaper, “Downplaying the dangers of this job is something he will never do, and is a disservice to all who take the oath to serve and protect. And there’s no more-appropriate time to talk about the dangers faced by members of the department than on Memorial Day, when thousands of uniformed members gather to remember, mourn and pay tribute to colleagues who have sacrificed their lives in service to the people of our city.”

Uniformed Firefighters Association President Gerard Fitzgerald issued a statement that said, “The idea that being a firefighter is somehow not dangerous is ill-informed and insulting to the brave men and women who make up the FDNY.”

Washington responded that the comments made by FDNY officials about his remarks regarding the dangers of working in the FDNY were irrational and taken out of context. He was in no way minimizing the dangers faced by firefighters.

“When it comes down to it,” Washington told the AmNews. “I’m the company Black man that brought diversity to the FDNY and they are mad about that.”

Washington said that if you watch the video it speaks for itself. “If people are mad for what I said, then there is something else here,” stated Washington. “To pretend that the statement I made saying that firefighters don’t run into burning buildings made firefighters angry is not accurate.”

In 2007, Washington filed a discrimination complaint against the FDNY with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In 2014, Brooklyn U.S. District Judge Nicholas Garaufis finalized a controversial ruling that found the FDNY guilty of discrimination after the Vulcan Society successfully challenged the methodology of the entrance exams. Garaufis awarded $98 million in damages and mandated the FDNY to appoint a court monitor to ensure that the department goes beyond rewriting its firefighter exam.

“Capt. Washington was not and is not being investigated because of his involvement in the lawsuit.” Gribbon told the AmNews. “The department has a strong and unequivocal position prohibiting retaliation of any kind concerning the lawsuit. Further, the department continues to be overseen by a court-appointed monitor and anyone claiming retaliation would have recourse with the monitor.”

Washington explained that the benefits of the job outweigh the risks and firefighters know as much. That’s why they do the job. That’s why firefighters encourage their own children to become firefighters.

“The perception of the danger is far greater than the danger itself,” he stated. “Let me rephrase that. The perception in the Black community is that the job is really more dangerous than it really is. He maintains that because the community has so little contact with firefighters they always hear about the dangers of the job, but it is not put in its proper perspective. He added, “Most Black people think that the death rate among firefighters is higher than it really is. So I like to give a realistic appraisal of the job.”

FDNY firefighter and Vulcan Society President Regina Wilson told the AmNews that if Nigro and Gribbon were recruiters, they would have a better understanding of where Washington was coming from.

“I feel that the commissioner and deputy commissioner should know better than to draw conclusions before making any comments without hearing all the facts,” the first female Vulcan Society President said. “If they would have called captain Washington in and asked him about his comments or called him on the phone instead of going on their own personal feelings, they could have gotten the real message.”

Gribbon said, “Calling Capt. Washington in would constitute ‘investigating’ him and there is no investigation.”

Wilson believes that the FDNY should be doing more. They’re not going to be under the supervision of a court monitor forever and given the current racial climate in America, the department should be focused on race relations.

“The FDNY doesn’t do enough to relieve racial tensions in the FDNY,” she stated. “We have a chief diversity and inclusion officer that was appointed by a federal judge that should be doing a better job building race relations.” Wilson pointed to FDNY paramedic Keisha Brockington, who found a threatening racist letter last month. The incident is currently under investigation.

“It didn’t take the FDNY long to create a substance abuse policy or to prohibit alcohol in our fire houses,” she said. “Why can’t racial tension stop? Why can’t hazing stop? Why can’t bullying stop?

She continued, “Regardless of the differences among firefighters [gender, race, sexual orientation], we should prove that we can still have differences but work together for the common good, that’s what the commissioner should have discussed at memorial service.” She concluded, “Let’s stop the bigotry, racism and sexism, which is over shadowing the FDNY far more than comments made at a workshop.”

Gribbon said that the FDNY is improving diversity. “The Department recently completed the most successful and most diverse recruitment effort in its history,” he noted. “More than 72,000 men and women signed up to take the exam [testing just ended Saturday, Oct. 28], with more than 60 percent identifying as people of color. During the last four years, 40 percent of each class of probationary firefighters have been people of color.”

“We would have never seen these numbers without the lawsuit,” Wilson said. “There is still a lot that needs to be done.”

This reporter contacted the Uniformed Firefighters Association, but by the time the AmNews went to press, no had responded. However, Ashtian Holmes, director of the Urban Male Leadership Academy at the Borough of Manhattan Community College was asked to share his views about the workshop. He referred me to Manuel Romero, executive director of Public Affairs, Borough of Manhattan Community College, who issued the following statement: “Our college organizations invite speakers to share experiences and views with students and the entire college community. Guest speakers provide an additional learning opportunity for our diverse student body.”