Racism within fire departments is not new. But firefighters at a Pennsylvania fire department sunk to a new level after getting caught making racist statements about an eight-year-old Black child killed last summer. Caught on tape, a member of the Briarcliffe Fire Company mocked Fanta Bility, who three police officers killed in Sharon Hill, a town near Darby Township.
According to Philadelphia’s Action News, the firefighters were in a virtual meeting online when the incident occurred. After the call ended, a few team members stayed behind to chat and went into a full-on racist tirade about African American residents of Darby.
One fighter allegedly called the community members “a bunch of f**cking n***ers” and complained that Blacks were “taking over sh*t.” They also accused Black firefighters of being lazy right before one Briarcliffe fireman lessened young Bility to “Fanta Soda.”
“Yea, orange or Fanta grape,” he allegedly chuckled during the recorded call, Action News reported.
This isn’t the first time firefighters at Briarcliffe have been accused of racist misconduct. Tim Eichelman, president and deputy chief of the township’s Goodwill Fire Company, told WHYY News that the company has received complaints of racism for years. The two-hour-long call, which Eichelman recorded, only shined a small light on a long history of racial injustice embedded within the squad.
“Letters have been written to the township before about their behavior, and their racist remarks, but there was no action taken because nobody ever heard it,” Eichelman told the outlet, noting how some firemen would refuse to service Black areas of Darby Township.
Richard Womack, a Black Delaware County council member, told WHYY he heard rumors of racism within the department for a long time, including claims that the firefighters were not reaching their destinations in a “reasonable amount of time” when they were called to the southern part of Darby. But he told the outlet such claims were not easy to prove.
Last week, the board voted to place the members in question on suspension pending the results of the township’s investigation.
“This is without prejudice to take further action at the conclusion of the township’s investigation. The names of the members under administrative suspension will not be released at this time because this is an internal personnel matter,” officials said in a statement.
Racial misconduct has been on the rise in the fire department over the last year. Back in October 2021, nine firemen in New York were suspended without pay for sharing racist messages and memes about the death of George Floyd.
A month prior, officials from the Montclair Township Council hired a lawyer to represent two Black firefighters who claimed they were administered their promotional exams in a discriminatory way. Both men said that they were given “inadequate administration and supervision” during the examination.
According to NorthNewJersey.com, both men claimed that “there was also selective consideration of minor, decades-old disciplinary incidents and excused medical absences designed to negatively impact the promotional scores of only African-American candidates.”