Firehouse Culture: “Say You Want To Be My Bitch”

$2.5 Million Lawsuit

"Hey, Sugar"

“Hey, Sugar”

The facts are basically these:

Guy’s on the job for 10 years, first day on a temporary assignment,  in the locker room looking for a locker.

He asserts that a co-worker said, “Hey, Sugar” and then two co-workers “grabbed him from behind, simulating sexual intercourse while one fondled him.”

He choked one of them out, repeating during the choking, “Say you want to be my bitch.”

He then stepped back and put his hands up.

It’s reported that the choker has had violent confrontations in the past and was apparently on some kind of  rotation where he spent 3 months each at three different firehouses after a prior event.

It’s All True

Or let’s assume it is.

The good, the bad, and the ugly.

These guys are all middle age men, in their forties, with time on the job.

Which is another way of saying that it’s not adolescent behavior in a middle school where you might expect it.

We can be nearly certain that the gray-haired hazers knew of their vicitim’s prior history, recent short term assignments and temper problems.

By the way, the hazers are white and the choker is black.

This is not an insignificant fact in a fire department where blacks are but a token presence, a fact which leadership now admits and says they are doing something about.

If the guy was sexually harassed, touched or groped it only lends force to the notion that blacks need to watch their back, literally.

A Dominant (ing) Culture

Apparently the guy showed up on his first day with pies and cakes, a tradition for the new guy at a firehouse.

This is important because he was following the cultural rules under what must have been less than favorable circumstances.

It is at least a quasi-subordinate act where the new arrival, by carrying it out, is announcing they understand their place in the group hierarchy.

For his trouble, his teammates treated him as if they wished him to submit sexually to their desires.

A cream pie apparently wasn’t good enough.

Black men (and women) were forced to submit for hundreds of years in America, sexually and otherwise.

Suggesting that a black man involuntarily submit sexually to a white man is among the most culturally inept ideas imaginable.

They call that slavery.

The repeated line, “Say you want to be my bitch” is nothing more than a counter assertion of dominance in a setting where his new workmates threatened the ultimate act of control: forced sexual penetration.

Some will say, “Never thought of that.”

Indeed, the dominate culture doesn’t require thought or sensitivity.

Why should they?

They have the power.

Leadership at Fault

What were supervisors thinking?

Create a  travelling firefighter, potentially with anger/violence issues?

Were they sharing the love within the division?

Is that really supposed to adequately address a problem if one existed?

In fact, what would be required is the exact opposite approach: constancy under an effective and trusted line supervisor who could implement an assessment plan and follow it up.

Company officers are by no means off the hook but battalion and division chiefs need a new playbook.

(Or maybe just a playbook, period.)

Culture:  Changing It

There’s a British term that perfectly captures the reaction of the vast majority of folks reading about this lawsuit: Gobsmacked.

It means utterly astounded or astonished.

Mature working folks do not have a frame of reference for such racially tinged and hyper-sexualized workplace conduct.

I mentioned at the outset that this occurred between middle age adults, a deeply disturbing fact evidencing cultural entrenchment of diseased norms.

After all, the twenty-somethings and the thirty-somethings are taking their cues, learning their behaviors from guys like these.

That’s how they learned it themselves: by observing it in an environment where it was condoned and promoted.

Diseased workplace norms are very expensive.

The city defends the dominant and diseased culture through both omission and commission.

It takes both management and labor, adequate funding, broad-spectrum buy-in and no nonsense accountability to get forty-year-old men to stop dry humping new arrivals in the locker room.

$2,500,000 would make a nice start.

The guys at the firehouse, when reached, said, “This is a disagreement between two men.  This is no one’s business.” 

In fact, it’s everyone’s business.


Souces: NYP, NYDN, Wiki




  • Mike Mohler says:

    Eric. Thanks for sharing this. As you know our own department has it’s own history of condoning very similar behavior. Fortunately, I haven’t witnessed it for quite a while. Hopefully this means our department has matured.

  • John says:

    Where is the evidence of a race issue here? The facts you’ve stated in this article:
    -Locker room antics in a locker room.
    -A firefighter under disciplinary action for violence behaving violently.

    I’ll be waiting to hear the facts presented in trial before I jump to conclusions. (such as comparing this incident to slavery)

  • Tim Kash says:

    This is not an article it’s an opinion.

  • Greg says:

    This is why our employers have these “no tolerance” policies. The two guys that started this situation have not had their annual sexual harassment and hostile work environment refresher. Anyway the department I just retired from had only three black firefighters out of 110 the whole 21 years I was there. Does that automatically suggest that some level of racism exists?

    • Eric Lamar says:

      Hi, Greg.

      Not sure where you are from.

      New York has a population that is at least 50% non-white.

      FDNY is about 95% white.

      Something is amiss and you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out.



  • Mike says:

    How and why are you comparing this to slavery? You do a disservice to every hard-working firefighter in FDNY, both white and especially black. It sounds like typical locker room crap. You think they did that because he’s black? I’ll bet they would have done it to the covering guy regardless of his color. Try waiting for the facts. If the fireman isnt screaming it was done because he’s black, who are you to? As far as the low numbers, everybody always had the same chances to take the test. The low numbers speak for themselves; several segments in NY dont want to take the test or didnt score high enough. Stop fanning the flames of racism. With all the nonsense going on in this country, and particularly in New York and Missouri right now, they dont need the help.

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