LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – The Lansing Fire Department and the City’s Human Resources Department need improvement, “a comprehensive, community independent review” has concluded.
The report was performed by The Center for Safety Assessments and Inclusion. It reviewed departmental policies and procedures, operations, workplace culture, health and wellness of employees, diversity and inclusion, training needs and community engagement.
Lansing’s new Fire Chief Brian Sturdivant says the concerns coming out of this assessment are top priority.
“The primary focus for me is unifying the department ensuring that every member of the organization feels valued,” Chief Sturdivant said.
The report solicited comments from those who worked for the Fire Department and other city employees.
The report found that the LFD is not a cohesive, unified body. According to The Center, tensions and social fissures have lowered departmental morale. Racial issues were specifically highlighted.
The City of Lansing’s Human Resources Department is tasked with hiring, firing and investigating LFD bias and harassment complaints. The report found that the HR Department needed reform and improvement.
According to The Center, employees voiced concern over the consistency and timeliness of HR complaint investigations, timeliness and urgency of hiring, firing and hiring for open LFD positions, communication regarding hiring/firing, and more.
Someone whose experienced the issues first hand is former Lansing firefighter, Michael Lynn Jr.
“They’re not following through to make sure that this doesn’t happen again. Its more or less how can we calm this down so it doesn’t turn into something bigger,” Lynn said.
He’s one of eight people with lawsuits against the department for charges including racial and general workplace hostility.
“Before I filed a lawsuit, I went down there like 10 times. So I was down there like over and over and over again with no resolve,” Lynn said.
To address the Department’s racial and social tensions, the report recommends that the LFD institute regular, mandatory diversity and bias training that focuses on racial and sexual tensions. Racist and sexist acts such as use of the n-word, placing a banana on a Black employee’s car, and misogynistic social media posts were all reported but were viewed as “innocent mischief” by some in the Department.
Chief Sturdivant agrees to implement those trainings.
“I do plan on making it a requirement in the fire department and I’m hoping some of that sentiment will echo at city hall and throughout the entire city,” Chief Sturdivant said.
A statement from Lansing Mayor Andy Schor’s office says they’ll review the assessment closely and will work on necessary reforms across city government.
While Lynn is no longer a part of the fire department, he hopes changes are made to ensure future firefighters don’t go through what he did.
“I don’t want people to feel that way about the fire service. It was a dream of mine. I’m sure its a dream of other young people out here. I want them to be able to have that best job in the world like everybody says. That’s why I hope they do something about it,” Lynn said.
The Center also found that, like all emergency response groups in the country, the LFD was heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, specifically in hiring and retaining personnel.
While city budgets were beyond the scope of the report, The Center found that workers voiced concerns over retirement and pension benefits.
“This area remains ripe for further review, analysis, and study,” the report said.
Among other logistics issues, the report found that the LFD would benefit from a new public safety building, possibly a joint building with the Police Department. It also found that communication between the City of Lansing’s maintenance and repair crew and the LFD was in need of improvement.
Employees also voiced concerns that the LFD was an “old boys club” that favored cisgender, heterosexual white men, and that members of the LGBTQ+ community and racial minorities were subject to harassment.
“The Department must urgently strive to institute regular, mandatory training designed to adequately prepare its workforce for working together with every sort of American. In light of the regular reports in media outlets – as well as the regular reporting during the sourcing of this report – of improper or unwelcome comments and actions about or relating to gender, sexual orientation, and other personal attributes, it is clear that the LFD has not fully realized its goal of a harmonious and respectful workplace,” the report said.
The report closed with recommendations on how to improve the hiring and employee retention processes. Suggestions included extra compensation for new hires with firefighting experience, more feedback on HR decisions.
The full report can be read here.