Winston-Salem Black firefighters demand justice, reform from fire chief, city

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Monday night several groups joined forces in the parking lot next door to fire station 1 in Winston-Salem to show support for Black firefighters. 

They are demanding action from the fire chief and city in response to allegations of racism, harassment and intimidation within the department. 

“This is not a first step. This press conference is the nuclear option. These men and women would not be here if they could have been heard,” said attorney Dawn Blagrove, with Emancipate NC. 

Past and present Black firefighters addressed generations worth of concerns they say were ignored by the Winston-Salem Fire Department. 

“Why does a new young fire officer have to be greeted at his desk with a gorilla mask? Why do we have to tolerate the type of tying of nooses at training sessions without recourse or support? Why does the N-word ring loud throughout stations in the city?” said Thomas Penn, with OMNIBUS. 

The group leading the charge for change is OMNIBUS. A local group of Black firefighters working to root out what they call institutional racism in their department. 

“There are certain things young men have been willing to come forward with and share with us, but they fear retribution, retaliation, not being promoted, transferred to alternate stations. It runs the gamut,” said Penn. 

OMNIBUS released the following list of demands in a press release:

●Dismissal of Chief Mayo, as his performance record reveals an abundance of city and fire department violations and failure to adequately serve all members of the department and the residents of Winston Salem.

● Create a fellowship program that targets and recruits all traditionally underserved communities to reflect the diversity of Winston Salem. (We have individuals prepared to participate on the recruitment committee).

● Enforcement of zero tolerance pertaining to the Code of Conduct policies, particularly the social media policy.

● Enforce the Code of Conduct policies as they are presented by the city and fire department.

● A thorough external investigation, chosen by OMNIBUS, of staffpersons suspected of blatant, gross, and repeated violations of sexual harassment, social media, or code of conduct policies. The suspected individuals are:

-Chief William Mayo

-Captain Chris Belcher

-Captain Kevin Shore

When these investigations prove valid, termination is expected. These investigations will be paid for, “by the City of Winston-Salem.”

● Biquarterly mandatory diversity training for personnel provided by an accredited source (chosen by OMNIBUS). This training is to begin in rookie school. This will be paid for, “by the City of Winston-Salem.

“We don’t have people that are strong enough together to say, ‘Hey, this is our policy as it relates to social media. You know the firemen or fire chief can not post this or they are going to be held accountable,’ then really these men don’t have any protection,” said Miranda Jones, with Hate Out of Winston.

Supporters say these men and women deserve to work in a place where they are safe and their rights are respected. 

“Just like you, the people of Winston-Salem, deserve to have a fire truck come to your house when your house is on fire, just like you deserve to have a fireman respond when you need them, now is your obligation to respond when they need you,” said Blagrove.

OMNIBUS says they shared their demands with leadership in the Winston-Salem Fire Department over 15 days ago and are still waiting for a response. 

FOX8 reached out to the department and we were told they are not commenting at this time. 

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