Pennsylvania town suspends entire fire department over racial slurs, bullying

A township near Harrisburg, Pa., has suspended a fire company over reports of bullying and racial slurs.

Penn Live reported that the Lawton Fire Company in Swatara Township, Pa., had been suspended after being taken out of service on May 31.

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The suspension came after an investigation found that members of the squad were harassed with racial slurs.

The suspensions comes amid months of reported bullying at the station, Director of Fire Services Mike Ibberson told Penn Live on Thursday.

The harassment got so bad that a volunteer left the company. Another member left the company in November after he was accused of using racial slurs against his colleague, the news site reported. 

Officials were aware of the harassment, a committee appointed to investigate the complaint found. 

"Swatara Township cannot tolerate improper or illegal conduct by any of the members of the volunteer fire companies that serve the township," Ibberson said.

"It is up to each individual volunteer fire company to police their own members to ensure that they follow the reasonable rules and regulations for operating within the township and that they conduct themselves in a professional manner,” he added.

A complaint also found that staff — which had shrunk to just 10 active members recently — didn’t receive proper trained and they failed to respond to several calls.

"The things that were taking place, from what I'm told — that's not tolerable," Township Manager Jim Fosselman said. 

Some of the company’s equipment, including a single fire engine, has been relocated to neighboring fire companies during the suspension, Penn Live reported.

Other fire units are now taking calls in place of Lawton, the report said. Ibberson reassured residents that there will be no delay on the other companies’ ability to respond to emergency.

"Fortunately, this type of alleged misconduct is well outside the norm. The vast majority of volunteer firefighters in our township are caring, compassionate, and respectful to each other and to the citizens they serve," Ibberson said.

"That is why the township provides significant financial and administrative support for them and why this type of improper conduct must be dealt with swiftly and properly so as not to tarnish our excellent reputation in the eyes of our customers — the taxpayers and visitors of Swatara Township” he added.