Firefighter who hung brown doll from neck in Wisconsin station suspended, chief says

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A brown figurine hung by its neck inside a Milwaukee fire station resulted in the 20-day suspension of a city firefighter.

The sanction was issued Aug. 8 but wasn’t made public until Tuesday by Fire Chief Mark Rohlfing, who called the firefighter’s actions a “gross lack of judgment,” McClatchy News confirmed.

It was “offensive, inappropriate and should not have happened in a Milwaukee fire station,” Rohlfing told Common Council committee members this week, the Journal Sentinel reported.

The brown, fetus-like figurine was hanging from a whiteboard in a break room at Fire Station 2 for three or four days before the station’s only Black female firefighter found it and reported it to higher-ups, according to Wisconsin Public Radio. Officials determined it wasn’t a “deliberate or intentional racist or sexist” act, however.

Rohlfing said a review of the February incident, which wasn’t made public until June, revealed that the white male firefighter had found the doll on the street and “brought it into the station out of curiosity,” WPR reported. He then hung the doll by its neck with a pink ribbon in the station’s kitchen.

“He said that he tied the ribbons ... together and hung it, hoping somebody would say, ‘Oh, I know what that is,’ ” Rohlfing told the Journal Sentinel, adding that the firefighter showed it to others at the station during lunch.

On July 1, Rohlfing announced departmental charges against about a dozen others with knowledge of the hanging figurine, WTMJ-TV reported. They included several high-ranking officials including, a deputy chief, battalion chief, captain and lieutenant, according to FOX 6 News.

The entire department was also required to undergo anti-harassment training, at the suggestion of the city’s Fire and Police Commission.

“The matter that is the 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,” Rohlfing told reporters, FOX 6 News reported. “The incident doesn’t express who we are as Milwaukee firefighters.”

Though officials ruled the act wasn’t intentionally racist, district Alderwoman Milele A. Coggs pointed to the potentially hurtful impact on those in the Black community.

“The history of people of African descent being hung and lynched in this country is long and it’s deep-rooted,” Coggs told the Journal Sentinel. “It is not a secret what hanging African Americans from ropes, nooses or anything of that nature, and the impacts that the visualization of anything that looks similar to that could have on particularly people of African descent but people in general.”

When pressed on Tuesday about why the firefighter in question wasn’t terminated, Rohlfing pointed to the employee’s history, his relationship with other colleagues, and his past military service, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

The Milwaukee Fire Department declined further comment on the matter.

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