WASHINGTON (WJLA) – A controversial email sent from a battalion chief at the D.C. Fire and EMS Department is causing outrage. The message orders fire inspectors to clean up a messy office instead of do their jobs, and it uses words many consider to be racist.
The email sent on Friday has some offended and wondering if the agency has its priorities straight.
The men and women who work as fire inspectors in the District don’t run into burning buildings, but they do something just as critical—enforce the fire code, so businesses, schools and hospitals are safe. They work on the seventh floor of a building in Southwest D.C.
On Aug. 22, the fire inspectors received an email from a supervisor that stated:
“… no appointments are to be made next Friday, August 29, 2014 due to a mandatory office clean up. I believe the quote used by a certain Battalion Chief (who shall remain nameless) was ‘this place looks like a hi-rise Good Times.’”
Sources familiar with this division say a number of fire inspectors—most of whom are African American—were offended at the language used in the email, as are D.C. residents with whom ABC 7 News spoke.
“Good Times,” a 1970s sitcom, focused on the everyday struggles of an African-American family living in public housing in Chicago.
“That’s derogatory. When I think of ‘Good Times,’ I think of low-income tenements,” said D.C. resident Shanthi Natesan.
“It just shouldn’t be said, so I guess somebody just wasn’t thinking,” said D.C. resident Keith Dewitt. “It shouldn’t have been said that way.”
A spokesperson for the fire department issued a statement that says referencing “Good Times” is “an insensitive remark that should not have been made in a professional environment.”
ABC 7 News started asking questions about the memo: would the division really close up to clean up?
“That’s a big safety situation,” Natesan said.
D.C. residents were concerned such a move would also be a poor use of government resources.
The fire department’s spokesperson responded by insisting the memo was a misunderstanding, saying, “At no time was an order given … to stop all fire inspections in order to clean the office space,” and that members have been encouraged to “maintain an orderly work space.”
The fire department does not plan on taking any disciplinary action in this case.