Some black firefighters call for Chicago fire commissioner's firing

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Some black firefighters and paramedics in Chicago are calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to oust Fire Commissioner Jose Santiago and for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the Chicago Fire Department.

The African American Firefighters & Paramedics League claims there's still racism within the CFD, despite a court order to hire and promote black firefighters.

The Chicago Fire Department has a well-documented history of discriminatory hiring. Recent class action lawsuits have resulted in minorities and women becoming firefighters.

But some say heavy handed discipline and missed promotions are disproportionately affecting African Americans in the department.

It is rare that a firefighter would speak against the department. But on Thursday, some representing Chicago's African American firefighters and paramedics made some disturbing allegations.

"We have systemic racism within the Chicago Fire Department," said James Winbush, African American Firefighters & Paramedics League.

They want the Department of Justice to investigate hiring and promotion within the department, and they want the fire commissioner out.

"We've met with him for five years, the league has met with him, we've had all kinds of discussions with him. He says one thing, he does something absolutely different," Winbush said.

On Thursday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel noted changes that have been made to address past injustices in hiring and he stands behind Commissioner Santiago.

"Jose Santiago did a tremendous job at OEMC and a tremendous job not only as a firefighter but leading the firefighters department," Emanuel said.

Despite African American applicants going through the academy following class action lawsuits, those here today allege that problems exist.

"Despite my degrees, despite my work history and also my experience, I still found myself being demoted and not treated fairly," said Vickie Beals, a CFD ambulance commander.

"It is phenomenal to be able to serve someone in the time they're needed. There's a 911 call, whenever they call, we answer. Well here's a 911 call we have," said Carmelita Wiley-Earls, a CFD captain.

A recent incident, they say, was how a station with a majority of African American firefighters was treated after concerns about bedbugs. New beds were delivered as the league held its press conference Thursday.

"We're not asking for a handout, we are just asking for equality," said Gregory Boggs, African American Firefighters & Paramedics.

The mayor and commissioner emphasize equal treatment and equal opportunity are critically important.

The mayor also added the department of justice already oversees CFD's promotions testing since 1980. He says the city has been working with DOJ and will continue to do so.

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