Fayette County

Lexington firefighter receives 10-day suspension for ‘racially inappropriate language’

Lexington firefighter disciplined for ‘offensive language’

The Lexington council approved a 240-hour suspension and diversity training on April 11 for Lexington Fire Captain Robert Forehand for use of offensive language .
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The Lexington council approved a 240-hour suspension and diversity training on April 11 for Lexington Fire Captain Robert Forehand for use of offensive language .

A captain with the Lexington Fire Department has agreed to a 240-hour suspension without pay and will attend diversity training after making racially inappropriate comments to a firefighter recruit class.

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Council approved Capt. Robert Forehand’s suspension and additional diversity training during its April 11 meeting. Forehand agreed to the suspension and diversity training, according to fire department disciplinary records. The suspension is equivalent to 10 work days, or a full month of work, fire officials said.

In addition, Forehand is no longer supervising recruits, Assistant Chief John Gosper told the council. Gosper oversees internal affairs and human resources for the fire department.

Forehand’s disciplinary records do not indicate what Forehand said to the recruits. Fire officials declined to describe what Forehand said and Forehand declined to be interviewed.

The Herald-Leader obtained Forehand’s disciplinary records through an Open Records Act request.

According to those records, Battalion Chief Lee Hayden said a firefighter recruit had called him and said Forehand “used racially inappropriate language while addressing a group of recruits.” Hayden then reported it to firefighter administrators. The complaint was made on Jan. 9.

Council members must approve disciplinary actions of police and fire but are often given limited information about the violation.

Gosper said Forehand’s comments “were part of the investigative file and are not subject to open records.”

Chris Bartley, president of the Professional Firefighters Local 526, said the firefighters’ collective bargaining agreement does not bar the release of investigative records. The agreement only outlines the disciplinary procedure for firefighters.

“An investigation was done and due process was followed,” Bartley said. “Lawyers looked at the case and determined the disciplinary action was appropriate. The member is remorseful and the union does not condone these actions.”

Councilman James Brown was the only council member to ask questions about Forehand’s suspension during the April 11 meeting. Brown said in an interview this week it was difficult for him to judge whether Forehand’s punishment was adequate because the council was not told what he said.

“It just said conduct unbecoming. Based on his punishment, I deduced that he said something that was exclusive in some way,” Brown said.

Lexington has tried to increase the number of minority police and firefighters over the past decade. In 2012, the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into the fire department’s hiring practices because of its lack of diversity. Brown said that’s why Forehand’s comments and the lack of transparency about what Forehand said is so troubling.

“We are trying to encourage more diverse candidates,” Brown said. “If we want to do that, we need to be intentional and create an environment that is welcoming and inclusive.”