'We must do better': 12 MFD members face internal charges after brown figurine found hanging
The investigation began back in February after a brown figurine was found hanging from a pink looped ribbon at Fire Station 2 near on West Wells Street.
The Milwaukee Fire Department says this is the brown figurine that was found hanging by a pink looped ribbon in a fire station. pic.twitter.com/CFeNoBn3el— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) July 2, 2020
Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing called the incident "inappropriate and wrong" during a news conference Thursday.
Rohlfing said a firefighter saw the figurine hanging on a bulletin board in February, was bothered by it and reported it to a supervisor. An investigation began a few days later.
Once the investigation began, the firefighter responsible for bringing the figurine to the station came forward right away. He told fire department leadership that he found the figurine on the ground while he was out on a call.
"He was curious about what it was. He picked it up, put it in his pocket. When he got back to the station, he cleaned it off and he showed it to some other firefighters, asking them, 'Do you know what this is?' or 'What's the significance of it?'" Rohlfing said.
The investigation was put on hold for about two months due to the coronavirus pandemic. Rohlfing said the investigation findings revealed that the firefighter's actions were not intentionally sexist or racist, or meant to target a specific person or group of people.
A statement from the Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters released a statement saying it's "hard to believe" that no offense was intended.
"If it is true it is a strong signal that some major re-education is needed, especially if this firefighter and every other firefighter who saw it do not see a problem with it. Remember we are citizens of a country with a history of racism and lynching Black people," Anthony Lewis, president of Milwaukee Brotherhood of Firefighters, said in a statement.
The brotherhood said the figurine was hanging for four days with three different shifts of firefighters seeing it before it was taken down.
MFD officials provided CBS 58 data from June 28 showing that about 14 percent of the department is Black.
Of the total 814 members of the department, 9 members are Asian, 114 are Black, 611 are White, 10 are Indian and 70 are Hispanic or Latinx.
Rohlfing said the firefighter who hung up the figuring will face departmental charges, along with 11 additional members of the department. The 11 other members are from the ranks of lieutenant, captain, battalion chief and deputy chief.
"We must do better than this," Rohlfing said. "The matter that is most upsetting and disheartening was the failure of our officers assigned to Station 2 to collectively maintain and reinforce an environment and culture within the station where an incident like this would be instantly stopped or questioned."
They will have seven days to respond to the charges. The entire department will undergo anti-harassment training.
Milwaukee Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing says the department was notified about the brown figurine on Feb. 13.— Rose Schmidt (@RoseSchmidtTV) July 2, 2020
“The investigation took a little longer than we would have liked” due to #COVID19, the chief says. pic.twitter.com/f3GAFJoIzj