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Racial Slurs at National Fire Academy

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  • Racial Slurs at National Fire Academy

    Fire instructor fired for slurs against DC firefighter

    (Washington-AP) -- A Washington D-C fire captain says he won't
    be returning to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, after
    being subjected to racial slurs that got an instructor fired.
    Captain Clifton Humphrey, who is black, says it happened June
    30th, while he was there for training. He says instructor John
    Popenfus (POP'-en-fuhs) circulated a cartoon with derogatory
    remarks about blacks and Jews. He then handed out applications for
    the Ku Klux Klan. Humphrey was so offended that he walked away, but
    he says Popenfus confronted him and asked, "How do you like
    that?" using a racial slur.
    The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which runs the fire
    academy, says Popenfus was suspended after a 90-minute
    investigation. He's expected to be formally fired sometime next
    Academy spokesman Tom Olshanski says Popenfus' actions were
    absolutely wrong and absolutely unacceptable.

    (Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

    What a disgrace to the Fire Service...and our National Academy's professional reputation. This firefighter is stunned!
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  • #2

    I am certainly not stunned. The fire service has never been a shining example of diversity in action. Let's be honest, the fire service has a history of being predominately male and overwhelmingly white.

    I will be stunned when these types of things stop going on in firehouses or where ever else a large number of firefighters assemble.

    Of course none of the cowards will post here, but I have never worked in a firehouse that did not have a number of ignorant racists (redundant)working at one time or another.
    "We shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them in New York City."



    • #3
      I was taking another class at the NFA when this incident happened. I happened to sit next to Captain Humphrey in the mess hall and had a brief conversation with him (this was before the incident). I can't begin to imagine how such outrageous behavior would make me feel had it been directed at me. I feel very bad for him, though.

      As you might imagine, the rumor mill was quite astir when this happened. The NFA administration acted quickly and justly, in my opinion. The statement about the instructor being escorted off campus within 90 minutes of heraing of the incident is accurate. The administration also made no excuses for what happened and or for their actions. Word was sent to all classes on campus about the nature of the incident (though not the specifics). The deputy sup't. made comments and apologies at the graduation ceremony as well. How many institutions would have tried to cover up such events?

      This was, indeed, a disgraceful incident. I am happy to report that, from my perspective, the NFA administration handled the situation appropriately. The instructor in question must still be held accountable, provided he is mentally competent in the legal sense.

      I sincerely hope that Captain Humphrey will reconsider his statements about his ambitions. The only way to eradicate this blight from our society is to tackle it head on and we need good people at the tops of our organizations to make it happen.

      a ship in a harbor is safe. . . but that's not what ships are for


      • #4
        posted by NJFFSA16:[b[ What a disgrace to the Fire Service...and our National Academy's professional reputation. This firefighter is stunned![/b]
        A disgrace to the fire service? As for Popenfus' himself, I'll agree 100%, but as for the Academy, I think it has bolstered their reputation. Certainly the incident itself was no shining example of behavior, but that it was dealt with as quickly as it was certainly stands out there. They made a solid statement that such behavior would not be tolerated.

        We all know that such behavior is unacceptable. That's a given. I'd just like to know what was in his head to cause him to do something so blatantly wrong and utterly stupid. It really makes me wonder about the guy's overall stability. I'm sure he sees it as a black man got him fired; not his own behavior. If he truly is unstable, that could really set him off. He obviously had focused on Captain Humphries for some reason. Why? None of this makes any sense. I've really got to wonder if he's wound tight.
        Steve Gallagher
        IACOJ BOT
        "I don't apologize for anything. When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there." - Woody Hayes


        • #5
          I consider it a privelege to be an adjunct instructor at the NFA. I cannot imagine what the hell this guy was thinking when he did this. He deserves everything he gets.

          If you want to know why the matter was handled as well as it was, you have to look no further than Denis Onieal. First, he is from Jersey and takes no BS. Second, I have known him for almost 25 years, having him as an instructor at Jersey City State College, and after that as a mentor and a friend. You will never meet a man with higher integrity than Denis. He is also a real guy who will never forget his roots...the firehouse. Go up to him at the NFA and talk to him and see how he genuinely cares what you have to say about the fire service and about the NFA. He is absolutely the best thing that ever happened to the NFA.


          • #6
            When I read this story, my jaw struck the ground. AS others of you have said...I am saddened by the occurance and embarassed that a leader in the Fire Service Community would act and think this way.

            Additionally, I will have to agree with STEAMER. Since Mr. O'Neil dealt with this immediately and decisively, the reputation of the NFA is upheld and reinforced as a no nonsense organization.
            09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
            IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
            "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
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            The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.


            • #7
              Some thoughts...

              First I was one of several other instructors at the NFA when this incident occurred. Many of the instructors, like myself, have known Dr. John for many, many years. While he was known for his somewhat off beat sense of humor he was never known him to say or do anything that was even remotely racist in nature.

              Secondly, clearly what happened is unacceptable and the NFA dealt with it in a timely fashion. Several folks have already pointed out that there could be some type of underlying medical or physical condition that caused this behavior. Lets hope the folks as the NFA follow up on this issue too.

              Folks has asked if he (Dr. John) was a member of the KKK. No - but he had reportedly gone to a couple of KKK rallies to talk with young folks to find out why the h- - - they would want to associate or join such an organization. Clearly not an approach an individual with racist attitudes would undertake.

              Dr. John does not have a fire background but has been in the field of higher education for decades. He was a member of the faculty of Mount Saint Mary's (near the NFA in Emmitsburg) for many years before retiring and taking another position at another local college. Dr. John had a reputation for being one of the "cool" professors. He has been teaching at the NFA in the course development/instructional design areas for some 20 years.

              As for Captain Humphries, don't let this one event stop you from pursuing other classes at the NFA or completing the project for your current class. Since you have been there numerous times before, you know that the NFA staff and student body respects everyone for the professionals they are - regardless of their racial or ethic background.

              There have also been some statements that this behavior maybe part of a pattern of discrimination on the part of admissions and NFA staffing. Before anyone jumps to this conclusion, first honestly and accurately answer the following:

              1) How many fire departments (career, volunteer, combination) are there in the US ?

              2) How many individuals work for or volunteer for these departments?

              3) The courses that the NFA offers are intended for certain "target audiences" based on their position or duties within their departments. So how many of the individuals who work for or volunteer fall within the target audiences of the NFA classes?

              4) What is the racial, ethic and gender makeup of those individuals who fall into these various target audiences?

              Until you have accurately answered (not guessed or surmized) all of the above, no one say with any degree of accuracy that the NFA does not reflect the make-up of the US fire service.

              In closing, I believe that I can speak for all of the NFA instructors and say that the behavior of Dr. John during this recent class is unacceptable under any circumstances. We can't change what has happened, but the matter has been dealt with, so let's move onward and upward.

              Given that there are those out there who have as their primary objective to eliminate the NFA as we have known it , this is not the time to divide ourselves or give the enemy any brickbats to throw at us.

              If anyone would like to discuss this matter with me directly you can contact me at [email protected]


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