Black fire chief snubbed on department's wall of honor

An investigation prompted by a Connecticut fire chief's refusal to hang a photograph of the department's first black chief on a wall of honor faulted him for racial insensitivity and concluded minority firefighters have reason to perceive racial bias in the department.

The city of New Britain commissioned the investigation in May after receiving a complaint from an African-American firefighter who was disciplined for removing the portraits of five other white former chiefs from a hallway at the department headquarters.

The law firm that did the investigation said in its report last week that interviews with minority employees found some felt they were held to a higher standard for disciplinary infractions than white firefighters.

The report said the controversy over the handling of the former chief's portrait was "wholly avoidable, is without reasonable excuse, and suggests strongly, at best, a serious level of racial insensitivity by the chief."

More broadly, the report identified issues of favoritism and dysfunctional leadership inside the department.

The fire chief, Thomas Ronalter, did not respond to a message seeking comment.

Mayor Erin Stewart said Tuesday she plans to review the report's findings to identify areas for improvements.

"The perception of any unfairness or racial insensitivity is unacceptable," she said. "I am extremely concerned about even the hint of unfairness and insensitivity toward the minority members or any member of our Fire Department."

The firefighter who brought the initial complaint, Daylon Hudson, alleged he was disciplined for protesting racism. He has been on leave since March. He told the New Britain Herald he felt vindicated by the report.

"I was made out to be an angry firefighter," Hudson told the newspaper.

When Hudson removed the portrait of the other chiefs in February, he had been asking for several years to add a portrait of Chief Mark Carr, who led the department from 2004 to 2012. Ronalter told the investigators he made a mistake in not hanging the picture and said racial bias did not play a role.

Carr's photo was hung on the wall in March at the direction of city lawyers, according to the report.