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2 Toronto firefighters suspended over Twitter posts

Fire Chief Jim Sales made aware of comments after media reports

Posted: Aug 22, 2013 6:15 PM ET

Last Updated: Aug 22, 2013 11:03 PM ET

Two Toronto firefighters have been suspended indefinitely after a media report published earlier this month alleged they had posted sexist comments on Twitter.

Fire Chief Jim Sales confirmed the suspension of the firefighters at a news conference on Thursday but refused to offer up any specifics of the case.

First published in the National Post on Aug. 10, one tweet reads, "Reject a woman and she will never let it go. One of the many defects of their kind. Also weak arms."

Another reads, "Would swat her in the back of the head been considered abuse or a way to reset the brain?"

The suspended firefighters have been identified as Matt Bowman and Lawaun Edwards, and the remarks by both have since been deleted.

'In the public domain it's important for all of us to demonstrate a positive image of the Toronto Fire Service.'—Jim Sales, Toronto Fire Chief

Sales told reporters that Toronto Fire had launched an investigation into the incident that he called "a personnel matter" and an "isolated incident that we'll deal with."

"I came here as a change agent," said Sales, who has served with Toronto Fire Services for more than three decades. "I'm committed to that, and some of that is the culture and some of that may be the attitudes."

He said he was first informed about the tweets after media reports surfaced.

"If we have a problem, we need to do more," Sales said, adding that his staff would be reviewing the "education and enforcement" of the city's social media policy.

"Change in the fire service sometimes doesn't come quickly or easily," he said. "We're an evolving organization."

Toronto Fire does not have its own respective social media policy, but instead follows protocols set forth for City of Toronto staff.

The fire chief said social media is in the public realm and when Toronto fire staff use it, they should reflect a "positive" image.

"In the public domain it's important for all of us to demonstrate a positive image of the Toronto Fire Service," he said.

South Park quotes

The firefighters union said the tweets were quoting characters on TV shows, including one from the popular cartoon South Park.

"I don't know who the tweets were meant for, but it's possible they were taken out of that context," said Frank Ramagnano, a spokesperson with the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters' Association. "Currently, even if there is no punishment, I would imagine that the embarrassment over it is enough."

Women currently make up 5.2 per cent of the service, and people of colour just 4.2 per cent.

Ramagnano added that the association hasn't seen any systemic issues related to sexism against female firefighters.

He said there's always room to do more, such as attracting more women to fire services.

"We hope the young, teenage girls out there right now would be considering it as a career," he said.

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With files from The Canadian Press

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