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Fourteen receive Fire & Rescue promotions

David Krakow

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Mayor Ken Welch (blue tie), Councilmember Ed Montanari (red tie) with members of St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue at the Dec. 11 ceremony. Photo provided.

St. Petersburg Fire & Rescue promoted 14 firefighters in a Dec. 11 ceremony, including its first-ever female district chiefs and the son of one of the city’s first Black firefighters.

Promoted to district chief were Lindsey Kensinger and Tanya Hart, the first females to attain that position in the department’s history. Also promoted to captain was Deveron Curry, whose father, the late Eugene Curry, was a member of the Pioneers (a.k.a. the first Black firefighters). The elder Curry and four others – Riley Preston Floyd, Eddie Utley, Stanton Singletary and Alphonso Brown – were honored as part of Black History Month in February, 2022, 50 years after they’d made history with the department.

The ceremony took place four months after Fire Chief Jim Large was placed on administrative leave by the city, after allegedly fostering a workplace hostile to women and minorities. Three weeks later, Large was reinstated by Mayor Ken Welch who said at the time that a “careful review of the facts” did not substantiate the claims against Large, 68, who has been with the department for 49 years. Among those calling for a change when Large was placed on leave were City Council members Richie Floyd and Brandi Gabbard.

St. Petersburg NAACP President Esther Matthews was also in support of Large being on placed on leave in August citing, among other factors, that Large had never prior appointed a Black or female district chief. Welch noted in August that Blacks make up 17% of the department’s force, calling it one of the larger percentages of Black firefighters among forces in the region.

Asked whether she thought the promotions were intended to address the issues that came to light in August, Matthews said in an email “often, when attention is drawn to matters of racial disparity within a city department, it prompts the department’s leadership to take decisive action to address these issues. In this light, I am heartened to see the fire department’s leadership take positive steps by promoting 14 of its staff members.”

While applauding the step towards “fostering a more inclusive and equitable workforce environment,” Matthews added that she “is hopeful and advocate(s) for a future where such necessary advancements and promotions become a consistent and regular occurrence.”

Following the reinstatement, Large’s attorney Jay Hebert said that it was Large’s intent to create a diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) committee. Welch agreed that the department’s leadership “must intentionally increase efforts to promote equity,” specifying African-American women. City officials could not be reached for comment on whether there had been progress in this matter.

 

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