As several agencies continue investigate who placed nooses on the gear of two firefighters at a downtown fire station last Friday, another firefighter told Channel 4 that something similar happened to him last fall.
"I'm ashamed of this," Charles Washington said. "You know, I care for them guys."
Washington, a 17-year veteran of the Jacksonville Fire-Rescue, said what happened at Fire Station No. 4 last week motivated him to tell what happened to him.
"I knew now that other people were brave enough to step forward and was offended, but I couldn't stand silent," Washington said.
Washington said he was the only black firefighter on duty at an in-service training session on a Sunday in September. He said while he was down on the ground, a fellow firefighter who was up in the ladder made a racist gesture.
"He grabbed up a long blue rope and he began to build something -- a knot. At the time, I had no idea what it was, until he threaded it and held it up," Washington said.
Washington said it was a noose.
"I said, 'Lieutenant, something needs to be done about that,'" Washington said.
Jacksonville Fire-Rescue told Channel 4's Jennifer Bauer that Washington did not make a complaint that day, either formal or informal. But, like all claims, they said they take this one seriously.
Early Friday morning, firefighter Rufus Smith reported finding a noose on his suit when he reported to work at a downtown fire station. A short time later, the only other black firefighter on the shift, Roderick Laws, found a noose draped over his gear.
They reported it to their superiors, and by midmorning, the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Hate Crime Unit was investigating, as was the city's General Attorney's office and Human Rights Commission.
The head of the local chapter of the NAACP said Monday that the Justice Department, the FBI or some other federal agency needs to investigate the incident.
Speaking publicly about the incident for the first time, Fire Chief Rick Barrett said he was ""extremely embarrassed" by the behavior and will terminate whoever is found to be responsible.
He said the racial divide in the department must be stopped.
Barrett said that with 1,300 employees in the department, "You are going to have some individuals who do not go by what they should be going by."
Washington said he came forward Monday because he knows now what happened to him isn't an isolated incident, and he hopes others who have had similar things happen to them will now come forward.
He said the more that racism in the department is exposed, the quicker it might end.
"It's a small segment," Washington said. "A small segment, but a significant segment."
- February 20, 2006: Fire Chief: Those Who Put Nooses In Firehouse Will Be Terminated
- February 17, 2006: Nooses Found At Downtown Fire Station
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