Providence firefighter fired for saying woman should ‘stop eating fried chicken’

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – A Providence firefighter has been fired for saying an African-American woman should “stop eating fried chicken” when he responded to a medical call earlier this year.

Andre Ferro, a firefighter who has previously faced disciplinary action for violating the department’s sexual harassment policy, was terminated for making racially-insensitive comments by the city’s Fire Department Trial Board Tuesday, according to Public Safety Commissioner Steven Pare.

“After considering his previous disciplinary history, Ferro’s conduct of March 15, 2017 and the context in which it arose and the potential damage to the reputation of the Providence Fire Department as a result of firefighter Ferro’s conduct, the board finds the only appropriate penalty to be imposed is termination,” the board wrote in its 2-1 decision.

The board includes Probate Court Judge John Martinelli, human resource director Sybil Bailey and Elaine Richards, who works for Commissioner Pare. Eyewitness News is not releasing the names of the individuals who filed the complaint.

According to the board’s decision, Ferro responded to a medical call to an apartment on Dodge Street around 7 p.m. on March 15 for a woman with a “nosebleed that would not stop.” While other firefighters attempted to stop the person’s nosebleed, Ferro allegedly told the woman’s daughter her mom “should stop eating fried chicken.”

There was “no fried food or fried food smell,” in the apartment, according to the decision.

Ferro confirmed to Pare he did make a comment about fried chicken, but claimed “he made the comment in the context of other types of foods to avoid such as cheese, bacon and burritos,” the decision states.

According to the board, several witnesses testified that they considered Ferro’s remark racist. James Vincent, the president of the local branch of the NAACP, told the board he considered the comment racially insensitive.

During the trial, Ferro’s wife, who is African-American, testified that she had never heard her husband make racially-motivated comments.

Ferro and the firefighters’ union argued for him to receive “cultural sensitivity training,” but the board said it placed “significant weight” on Ferro’s previous misconduct.

In 2008, Ferro was initially fired for violating the department’s sexual harassment policy, but was “reinstated as a result of an arbitration award and a last chance agreement,” according to the board. He served a one-year suspension and was required to undergo sexual harassment training.

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Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan