L.A. firefighter accused of vulgar act in protest over vaccine mandate

The Los Angeles Fire Department rapidly reversed a decision to put its social media accounts on hiatus and halt releasing records that show how long it takes rescuers to respond to calls for help.
A Los Angeles firefighter performed a vulgar act after being given a letter ordering him to comply with the city's vaccination mandate, an LAFD employee group said. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles Fire Department is investigating an incident in which a firefighter “responded inappropriately” after being handed a letter to comply with the city’s vaccine mandate, a department spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The LAFD member responded to receiving the noncompliance letter by dropping his pants and wiping his buttocks with the letter, leaving fecal matter on the document, before dropping it to the ground, according to the Stentorians of Los Angeles City, a group representing African American firefighters.

The situation underscores the deep resistance among some within the Fire Department over the city's mandate that employees be vaccinated.

LAFD spokeswoman Cheryl Getuiza said the incident is alleged to have occurred on Nov. 18. "The department is aware of the seriousness of the allegations and took immediate action upon learning of this incident," she said, declining to comment on the details.

Getuiza said the firefighter is on paid administrative leave and "will face the consequences of any inappropriate acts." She did not elaborate on specifically what prompted the leave.

An LAFD captain and a chief officer witnessed the incident, the Stentorians said in a statement sent to the Board of Fire Commissioners and city leaders. It took place at Fire Station 69 in Pacific Palisades, the group said.

“The LA City Stentorians are sickened and disgusted by this horrific display of unprofessionalism,” the Stentorians' statement said. “To date, we have not heard from anyone from the LAFD administration condemning this act of blatant disrespect and harassment.”

The group called on the mayor, City Council and fire commission "to take swift and immediate action to deter any city employee from feeling entitled and not encouraged but empowered to behave in such an embarrassing and threatening manner."

The Stentorians described the act as a "terminable" offense. Their statement included a photo of a man holding what appeared to be a discolored document.

A person who answered a phone number associated with the man in the photo told The Times on Friday that the man wasn't available. When the reporter called back, the person said they had the wrong number.

The photo sent Wednesday by the Stentorians also circulated within the Fire Department on Friday.

Getuiza said in a statement Friday that the department is "aware of an incident where a member responded inappropriately to a hand delivered letter to comply."

“No matter how our members react, all city employees must abide by the city ordinance — either file for an exemption, get vaccinated, or face termination,” Getuiza said.

On Monday, Getuiza said the incident was entered into a complaint tracking system and the department's Professional Standards Division was investigating.

Harrison Wollman, a spokesman for Mayor Eric Garcetti, declined to comment Monday on the alleged incident.

Asked Wednesday to respond to the Stentorians’ statement, Wollman said the “mayor’s expectation is that fire department leadership will handle this matter definitively, and make it clear that these appalling actions will not deter enforcement of rules that we've put in place to save lives.”

"I am beyond appalled at such an act by an LAFD firefighter," said Jimmie Woods-Gray, president of the Fire Commission, on Wednesday. She said "strong corrective action is necessary."

The city has sent vaccination compliance notices to workers as part of the city's new vaccination mandate. Workers who have yet to get vaccinated or seek exemptions are supposed to sign notices that instruct them to provide proof of vaccination by Dec. 18.

Workers who refuse to sign those notices will be taken off duty and their pay halted as they await a notice of “proposed separation,” according to a memo that was sent to city departments by Garcetti.

The vaccination mandate has prompted angry outbursts for months from some in the Fire Department.

A newly formed group called Firefighters 4 Freedom is suing the city over the vaccine rules, while a firefighter's YouTube video criticizing the mandate went viral in August.

At the same time, some employee groups want LAFD Chief Ralph Terrazas removed amid accusations the department isn’t addressing harassment and bullying, particularly of female firefighters.

A recent survey found that an overwhelming number of firefighters lack trust in their leaders, while many in the department are frustrated with perceived inconsistencies in how top brass discipline sworn members.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.