Kansas City releases report on racism, sexism at fire department
The Missouri department was also the subject of an investigative series by the Kansas City Star into allegations of decades of discrimination
By Glenn E. Rice, Mike Hendricks
The Kansas City Star
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Council on Wednesday released a report on racism and sexism in the Kansas City Fire Department, assessing how much discrimination persists in the agency years after city leaders promised changes.
The 163-page KCFD Cultural Assessment report was produced by a third-party consultant, Debra Jarvis and Associates, hired by the fire department. It was commissioned in response to claims made about the culture and environment in KCFD.
The report comes two years after an investigation published by The Star in 2021 documented decades of systemic racism and sexism tolerated by fire department leadership and City Hall.
The Star’s series showed how Black firefighters endured racial slurs and, at times, life-threatening harassment on the job. And it detailed how the city’s fire stations were segregated, with Black firefighters kept out of busy, inner-city fire stations, which are the most prized positions because they are paths to promotion.
The report released by the city Wednesday says it is result of a yearlong review that included 231 KCFD employees from different ranks and positions. The names and identities of the participants were kept confidential to ensure anonymity.
The City Council also hired two law firms, Bryan Cave and Fields & Brown, to investigate the findings highlighted in The Star series. That report, which is separate from the assessment, has not been released.
Calls for change
After the series was published, then- Fire Chief Donna Lake and City Hall officials committed to making changes in the department, including issuing a six-part plan and analyzing the way the department handles promotions.
At the time, Lake said in a statement that the issues facing KCFD are “a microcosm” of the larger community and society, and just as the rest of the world struggles to improve equity and inclusion, “KCFD must rise to do the same.” She said issues that have resulted in racism and discrimination “cannot go unaddressed.”
City Manager Brian Platt, who had just begun his tenure when the articles were published, promised to take “aggressive and swift steps” to prevent further discrimination.
The department announced they had developed a six-point plan that included
Faith leaders and civil rights activists criticized the fire department and for moving slowly to initiate change.
The city later hired LaDonna McCullough as its new chief equity officer, whose job includes overseeing the city’s efforts to eliminate discrimination.
Lake retired from the Fire Department in late January. She was replaced by assistant Fire Chief Ross Grundyson who will serve as interim chief until a permanent replacement is named.
The department’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee was recently launched and has been working to identify ways to improve and promote diversity within the ranks.