Chicago fire official placed on leave

Friday, March 30, 2007

A high-ranking member of the Chicago Fire Department has been placed on administrative leave following allegations of racism.

Donald Walsh, 51, is accused of asking if a paramedic was black or white when the employee asked if he could leave work for a family emergency.

The assistant deputy chief paramedic showed up for work Friday morning and was immediately placed on paid administrative leave.

The March Third incident allegedly began when a paramedic learned that his child had been hospitalized and asked for permission to leave work.

The paramedic's supervisor sought guidance from Walsh, who allegedly asked, "'Is the guy black or white?"'

The paramedic eventually was allowed to leave.

Walsh denies allegations

Walsh, who has been with the Chicago Fire Department for more than 30 years, started out as an ambulance driver and worked his way up through the ranks. He now oversees day-to-day operations for half the paramedics in the city. Now, a paramedic on the South Side is accusing him of racism. Walsh is defending himself and he has harsh words for his accuser.

"There's a hidden agenda here. I don't know what it is, but I'm going to get to the bottom of this. I'm going to have my career and name cleared, because this is outrageous," said Donald Walsh.

Walsh says he has no idea why anyone would accuse him of racism. With his wife Marge by his side, he is defending his career as a fair and dedicated member of the Chicago Fire Department.

"I've been chief officer for many years and have been on the fire department for over 30 years, and I have a great record, impeccable record, untarnished by anything," Walsh said.

The alleged incident happened in early March when a paramedic at a fire station on the South Side asked off work so he could see his daughter in the hospital. His supervisor allegedly called Walsh to get permission -- and then Walsh reportedly asked the supervisor the race of the paramedic. When told he was black, Walsh is accused of telling the paramedic that before he would be allowed to leave, he had to find a replacement.

Walsh says nothing like that ever happened.

"Anybody in the fire department that needed help for family emergency, I would go out of my way to do it," said Walsh.

No one from the fire department would go on camera to discuss the incident. But Fire Commissioner Raymond Orozco released this statement: "We are conducting a complete and thorough investigation of these charges. It saddens me that anyone in a positions of authority in this department would display this type of poor judgment."

The fire department reportedly will be putting Walsh on administrative leave, but Walsh says he hasn't been able to confirm this with his superiors. Meanwhile, he says he is furious over these accusations.

"My comment to my accuser, whoever he may be, shame on you," said Walsh.

Walsh says he has made repeated attempts to contact his superiors, including Commissioner Orozco, but no one at the fire department has given him much information.

"The department is conducting an aggressive investigation," fire department spokesman Larry Langford said. If the allegations turn out to be true, Fire Commissioner Orozco "will act quickly and decisively to deal with the matter." The penalty for such an infraction would range from verbal reprimand to termination, Langford said.

Walsh said he is planning on going to work Friday as usual.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report. Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.)

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