Houston Mayor to Oversee Fire Department Investigation

HOUSTON --

Houston's mayor said on Thursday that he will personally oversee an investigation into racial, sexual and threatening graffiti left at female living quarters in a Houston fire station, and will seek outside help in improving the department, KPRC Local 2 reported.

Paula Keys, Jane Draycott

Jane Draycott and Paula Keys' lockers at Houston Fire Station 54 at Bush Intercontinental Airport were broken into and their pictures were vandalized. The women discovered what happened when they arrived at work Tuesday.

Mayor Bill White said he is disappointed in how the women were treated, and called the acts shameful and unacceptable.

He urged those responsible to come forward.

"Nobody is more impatient in bringing things to closure and finding a just and fair resolution than I am," White said.

The Office of Inspector General is conducting the investigation.

Despite calls for a federal hate-crime investigation, White said the city will handle the investigation on its own.

"If there are changes to be made, I don't want to wait for somebody else, another governmental entity, to tell us to make those changes," White said.

The mayor said the grievance process in the Houston Fire Department is broken because the response is too slow.

"Because of the civil service system, and the right they afford to employ, employees who are accused of misconduct -- it was difficult to deal with quickly with problems that needed to be solved," White said.

He said he would consult with human resource companies for guidance on how to revamp the grievance process inside the HFD.

A high-ranking member of the Houston Fire Department said he is also disgusted by the incidents.

"Whoever wears this ugly face needs to be removed," Executive Assistant Fire Chief Rick Flanagan said.

The women said Wednesday that they have been harassed for a long time.

"This has to stop. I've been going through this for two years now and it's sick," said Draycott.

Sexual, racial and threatening words were found on the walls and counters.

"When I saw my pictures on the floor with their faces marked, I was devastated. They are messing with my family and I will not stand for that," said Keys.

Draycott said there was something particular disturbing to her.

"They defaced my daughter's picture and wrote 'dead' on her face," Draycott said. "They wrote 'die' on my face."

Draycott's 17-year-old daughter was killed in a car accident more than two years ago.

The women said they do not know who is doing this, but they said they believed no one, including the supervisors, would do anything about it because they never have in the past.

There are about 4,000 Houston firefighters, with 11 always on duty at Fire Station 54.

Keys and Draycott are the only two female firefighters assigned to Station 54.

Flanagan said this behavior is unacceptable.

"I am truly saddened," he said. "I want to say to that person or persons, please surrender. This person or persons, they are vicious, they are evil, they are sick. They need not to wear this uniform."

"People are cruel," Draycott said. "They're absolutely cruel. I am furious."

Draycott said she will not change stations. Keys said she wants to be moved to another station.

"I'm afraid to go back to the station because I don't know what the next step is going to be," Keys said. "I honestly don't know who it is; it could be someone right next to me. I can't work there not knowing what's going to happen."

The attorneys who represent the women said they want the Department of Justice and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

Fire Chief Phil Boriskie said the incident was a criminal offense and those responsible will lose their jobs.

"There are good men and women here," Flanagan said. "Whoever wears this ugly face needs to be removed."

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