HOUSTON – One volunteer was suspended and five paid part-time firefighters with the Westfield Fire Department were fired Monday after a Channel 2 Investigation revealed a video on Snapchat showing a firefighter strapped to a backboard and being doused with water and covered with several condiments.
The video was sent to Channel 2 Investigates by a concerned viewer.
KPRC then showed the video to Westfield Fire Chief Stephen Whitehead, who said it appears the incident took place at the department’s main fire station on Lauder Road.
“Do you recognize the guy on the board?” asked Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
“Yeah, he’s a rookie. Actually, he just got off rookie status,” Whitehead said.
The video, which is nearly five minutes in length, shows the firefighter on the ground, tied to a backboard with several straps and periodically doused with bursts of water from the rear valve of a tanker truck. Other men are then seen pouring mustard, flour, popcorn butter, chocolate, yogurt and ice on the firefighter.
“Dude, you're crying. You want to quit, just say it,” one firefighter is heard saying on the video.
After watching the video, Whitehead immediately opened an internal investigation into the men’s actions.
“It's totally unacceptable,” Whitehead said.
He said while nothing on the video is tolerated, he was particularly concerned about the restraints.
“I mean, that's dangerous, you could injure him,” said Whitehead. “I've never seen that degree of hazing before, or harassment, never.”
Even the men on the video seemed concerned about the incident getting out to the public.
“Hey, y'all, don't be putting this (expletive) on social media,” one man is heard saying.
“I mean, we're here to protect lives and property, not -- especially your own, you know -- not cause harm,” Whitehead said.
After the KPRC 2 story aired Monday night, Whitehead sent an email to us reading that, "one volunteer was suspended indefinitely, and five part time firefighters were terminated."
On Tuesday, the day after KPRC 2 first reported the story, Whitehead posted a statement to the Westfield Fire Department page that read, "The welfare of our personnel is one of our highest Departmental values. Our commitment to this value is the foundation for maintaining a high-quality workforce. We expect our leaders to demonstrate this commitment by aggressively eliminating barriers to success for all people. In our continuous pursuit of excellence, all personnel will share responsibility for ensuring that the talents and capabilities of our members and the department as a whole are recognized, valued, and used in a manner that contributes to the accomplishment of our mission. In an era when our discipline, critical thinking, and adaptability are paramount to our ability to responded and serve, a well-managed, highly diverse workforce is imperative to achieving operational excellence.
"On Monday, March 13, 2017, Channel 2 News reporter Robert Arnold brought to my attention a video of a hazing sent to him by a concerned citizen. This hazing incident occurred at Westfield Fire Department Central Station. The Presidents of both the Fire Department Board of Directors and the ESD #25 Board of Directors were immediately informed of the video. An internal investigation was conducted. The rookie involved stated he suffered no injury, and did not wish to file a formal complaint with the fire department or any other agency. As a result of the investigation, all the duty members involved were terminated and all volunteers involved have been suspended indefinitely effective, Monday, March 13, 2017.
"I do not condone this activity, and find it egregious and a blight on our profession. And although our employee handbook clearly states in section 7.4 that this type (of) activity is clearly prohibited, I felt and additional, more comprehensive procedure was needed. Therefore, a Hazing Procedure has been written and went into immediate effect on March 13, 2017."