Racial tensions arise in Bridgeport FD

(07/23/03) BRIDGEPORT - Some leaders of Bridgeport's African American community believe they are being targeted by whites, in competition for promotions in the city fire department. State Senator Ernie Newton (D-Bridgeport) is concerned about the intentions of a group called Bridgeport Fire Fighters for Merit Employment. Newton claims it's a secret society that doesn't include women, African Americans and Latinos.

To address the secrecy concern, the group delivered a mission statement to City Hall Tuesday night. It claims that the group is open to all firefighters who believe in maintaining the merit system in municipal employment. It says its mission is to preserve and enforce the current civil service system, and advancement should be based on qualifications rather than political favoritism.

But some minority firefighters question the part about "open to all." Firefighter Lorenzo Pittman says he's never been asked to join the group, and claims there are no African American members.

Fire Chief Michael Maglione says the situation has not affected teamwork among his firefighters. He said the department is about five years overdue for a promotional exam and if the city schedules one soon, that might help solve at least some of the problem.

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