TORONTO - Bringing change in culture and attitude to Toronto's firefighter community is not easy, the city's fire chief said Thursday as he announced the suspension of two members over comments made on Twitter.
The suspensions came after a published media report said two firefighters had posted several sexist messages on Twitter, including one that read "Reject a woman and she will never let it go. One of the many defects of their kind. Also weak arms."
Fire Chief Jim Sales said the two firefighters — identified as Matt Bowman and Lawaun Edwards — have been suspended with pay, but he wouldn't comment on specific details of the case.
Sales said Toronto Fire Services is conducting an internal investigation on what he called "a personnel matter."
"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."
"Change in the fire service sometimes doesn't come quickly or easily," he said. "We're an evolving organization."
Sales said he was made aware of the tweets from reports in the media. The National Post first reported the controversial tweets in a story published Aug. 10.
Toronto Fire does not have its own policy on social media, but it follows all protocols for City of Toronto staff, said Sales.
"I think any form of social media should reflect on the Toronto Fire Services positively, when our staff are using it understand that they are in the public realm," he said.
"We don't condone negativity brought to the fire service by individual members or other members."
A spokesman for the Toronto Professional Fire Fighters' Association suggested that the tweets may have been used in reference to quotes from a television show.
"It's possible they were taken out of that context," said Frank Ramagnano, adding that social media users should be aware that anything put out in public could be offensive to some.
"That should be in the back of your mind when you're saying this," he said.
"Currently even if there is no punishment, I would imagine that the embarrassment over it is enough."
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.
Ramagnano said suspension over social media use is a new issue for Toronto's firefighters.