BWI terminates African-American fire chief amid complaints about diversity

Officials at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport announced the hiring of its fire-and-rescue department's first Hispanic fire chief Thursday, shortly after acknowledging that they had terminated its acting chief, an African-American, the day before.

The hiring of Victor N. Ferreira Jr., a 52-year-old retired Prince George's County fire official, comes amid complaints about diversity within the airport's fire department, following the hiring of an all-white class of firefighter recruits last month.

Ferreira said in a statement that one of his goals is "to ensure a diverse, inclusive workforce."

"I intend to reach out to a number of organizations to follow up on initiatives that focus on boosting opportunities for minority firefighters," he said.

Meanwhile, officials with the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People questioned the airport's termination of Gregory Lawrence, who was named acting chief in November.

The two organizations criticized the airport's fire department about the all-white recruit class earlier this week.

"This doesn't smell good at all," said James Hill, president of the International Association of Black Professional Fire Fighters. "We have got to get to the bottom of this. Somebody needs to answer the question of why he was terminated."

Others also expressed concerns.

"I don't know the substantive grounds that are there for the acts that have been taken, so you're sort of in a holding pattern until you find out what the cause is for the termination," said Daryl Jones, an Anne Arundel County councilman who represents the district where BWI is located. "It certainly raises suspicion. … It looks like there is a call and response there."

Jonathan Dean, a spokesman for the Maryland Aviation Administration, confirmed that Lawrence was terminated but described the decision as a "personnel matter" that airport officials will not comment on.

Dean said the airport is committed to fair and equal hiring practices. Ferreira, born in Uruguay and fluent in English and Spanish, retired in 2009 as assistant chief of the Prince George's County Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, after 27 years of service with the department.

Ferreira has two medals of valor, served as a bomb technician during the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, and holds a bachelor's degree in fire science from Columbia Southern University.

Paul J. Wiedefeld, BWI's CEO, called Ferreira "a respected leader that brings decades of fire and safety operational experience."

Dean said Ferreira was hired after a competitive nationwide search.

Airport officials would not answer questions about the timing of Lawrence's termination and the complaints being raised about the recruit class.

The recruit class was composed of nine white men, whom Dean called the most qualified candidates. With their hiring, the 89-person fire-and-rescue department became 26 percent minority and women and 13 percent African-American, Dean said.

Lawrence, a former Marine who served for years as the department's deputy chief before being named acting chief in November, said he was fired by Maryland Aviation Administration officials at a 2 p.m. meeting Wednesday.

Lawrence said he was "not a happy camper" when asked Thursday about his termination, and that he was "very, very disappointed with the state of Maryland."

He declined to comment on why he was terminated. He said he was not the one who raised concerns about the department's diversity.

Alan Legum, an Annapolis attorney representing Lawrence, said his office is planning a news conference next week, but declined to comment further.

Many black leaders in Maryland and in Anne Arundel County had hoped that Lawrence would become the permanent chief.

Jacqueline Boone Allsup, president of the NAACP's Anne Arundel branch, said the group's concerns about the fire department's diversity involve low numbers of women and Hispanic candidates as well, and she was happy that diversity was kept in the chief position.

However, she wants to know why Lawrence was shown the door.

"Why was he fired?" she said. "Right now I don't have any information."

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