Los Angeles Fire Department
Historical Archive

L.A. Fire Chief Retires Amid Furor

Los Angeles fire chief William Bamattre retires amid furor over racial discrimination lawsuit

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 2, 2006
By MICHAEL R. BLOOD Associated Press Writer

(AP) The city's fire chief, given his job a decade ago with a mandate to stamp out racism and sexism, is leaving amid controversy over a black firefighter's claim that his white colleagues served him spaghetti with dog food.

Chief William Bamattre announced Friday that he will retire on Jan. 1.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa praised Bamattre as a "class act" and dedicated firefighter. But at the same time he indicated he had lost confidence in the chief's leadership, calling Bamattre's departure a "joint decision."

Bamattre, 54, issued a statement saying he stands on his record with the department, but is "a political realist."

"Over the past few days I have come to the appreciation that these current issues have political implications beyond the scope of the Fire Department. I have become the focus of the debate and that is to the detriment of the LAFD," he said.

Bamattre, a firefighter for 31 years, was promoted to chief in 1995 when predecessor Donald Manning suddenly resigned, citing "false allegations and innuendoes" about claims of discrimination in the department.

On Friday, Bamattre quoted from his first communication to the department 11 years ago in which he said: "Discrimination and/or harassment of any type _ ethnic, gender, rank _ whether overt, subtle or unintentional, will not be tolerated."

The race issue blew up last month after the City Council approved payment of a $2.7 million settlement to firefighter Tennie Pierce, who claimed racial discrimination after being fed the dog food pasta at a firehouse meal in October 2004.

Pierce, 51, said he was victimized because of his race.

But others say the doctored dinner was part of the department's well-documented culture of bawdy jokes and hazing. A department investigation suggested the incident was intended to be a prank to "humble" Pierce after he referred to himself as "the Big Dog" at a volleyball game.

The department disciplined two white captains and one Latino firefighter.

The mayor vetoed the settlement after photos surfaced showing that Pierce himself had engaged in crude firehouse hazing _ smearing mustard and dumping water on restrained colleagues.

Pierce's lawsuit is headed to trial.

The department is 12 percent black, 29 percent Latino, 52 percent white and Asians or others account for 7 percent, according to city statistics. In 1994, it was 11 percent black, 24 percent Latino and 60 percent white, with Asians or others accounting for 5 percent.

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