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Norwalk Fire Department Lieutenant suspended after anti-Semitic comments

Norwalk Fire Department Lt. Pat St. Onge has been suspended from July 27 through July 31, Fire Chief Gino Gatto said.

NORWALK, Conn. — A Norwalk firefighter is currently suspended from duty for one week without pay due to anti-Semitic comments.

On July 3, Lt. Pat St. Onge turned to a Jewish firefighter under his command and said Jewish people are dirty. St. Onge has apologized and quotes himself as saying to coworkers, “Hasidic Jews aren’t known for their hygiene.”

“This is a rare and isolated incident. Any complaint is investigated fully and will not be tolerated in the Norwalk Fire Department. Personnel issues are forwarded to the Director of Personnel and also the Board of Fire Commissioners,” Fire Chief Gino Gatto said.

The Fire Commission discussed the incident, he said.

 

‘How dirty they are’

Firefighter Alex Horelick reached out to Gatto on July 11 and described the incident, in an email provided to NancyOnNorwalk by Gatto on Tuesday.

Horelick was making breakfast for his shift on July 3 when a fellow firefighter turned to St. Onge and asked, “if the temporary shower/toilet trailer was part of our detail now that it was in station during renovations.” St. Onge replied “that ‘there was a service that comes to clean the trailer’. He then proceeded to express his concern about it because he ‘saw the guy cleaning the bathroom was Jewish and you know how dirty they are’,” Horelick wrote.

He continued:

“When the lieutenant made this statement he was looking directly at me and he is well aware that I am Jewish. It was a bizarre and awkward moment because aside from the negative prejudices that he was expressing towards Jewish people he was seemingly looking for my agreement with how ‘dirty’ ‘they’ are. The statement was made in a matter {of} fact tone and was not attempted to be comedic, teasing or any other type of communication other than a bigoted negative judgement {sic} on Jewish people. I, being dumbfounded, then asked the lieutenant ‘which ethnic group would you prefer clean your bathroom?’ To which he had no response.”“…I made it clear to the lieutenant that I was extremely unhappy with his comments and found them offensive. The other firefighters in the room were dumbfounded as well. If you were to attach these comments to any group – i.e. ‘a (fill in the blank) person cleans the bathroom, but you know how dirty those people are’ – any member of that group would have been extremely offended. That being said, the commonality of using ‘dirty Jew’ as an anti-Semitic insult and the historical context behind those words makes these statements even more appalling and the maliciousness of these comments unquestionable. The other Firefighters on shift with me that day who witnessed this told me they were shocked and appalled by his comments and immediately found them to be offensive.”

 

St. Onge had, months earlier, asked Horelick, “you wear those Jew curls.. right?,” Horelick wrote.

“I have since spoken to union president Ireland and Capt. Maggio to inform them of what transpired and that I refuse to work for an officer who spoke such negative, hurtful comments about Jewish people,” Horelick wrote. “Considering he said these remarks to my face it is fair to assume that he is capable of thinking and saying even worse things about Jewish people outside of work.

 

‘Immature’ comments

St. Onge wrote to Gatto on July 13 and confirmed Horelick’s version of the incident.

“During the station renovations, a handful of complaints were initially made about the cleanliness and serviceability of these bathrooms,” St. Onge wrote. “As the subject of the bathrooms came up in conversation I made a statement either exactly or very close to the following: ‘Well, Hasidic Jews aren’t known for their hygiene’ in regards to the delivered cleanliness of the bathroom. I was aware at the time, that FF Horelick was Jewish and did not put any consideration into the fact that this was first of all, a narrow and ignorant statement, but that it might also offend FF Horelick. I understand that this ignorant statement painted the picture that I believed that Jewish people are dirty. After having spoken with others about this both in and outside of the FD, including FF Horelick, I realize that this has much more historical significance than I could have imagined.”

The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law states, “Jews have long been described, literally or metaphorically, as carriers of a physical defect, deformity or disease, often associated with ugliness, weakness, dirt and excrement… the phrase “dirty Jew” has long been common among anti-Semites, and stereotypes of ‘Jewish odor’ were once commonplace.”

St. Onge wrote that he immediately wished he could retract the “narrow, ignorant, insensitive, judgmental, and immature” comments that offended Horelick and apologized to him. He also noted that “being a supervisor, it erodes my ability to do my job. I am expected to be a voice of maturity and reason, and direction.”

He called the ensuing conversation with Horelick “an overall win in conversations of diversity.”

“I was grateful to be able to have had an adult conversation about it, because I surely didn’t feel that he owed me that favor,” St. Onge wrote. “….  I encouraged him to follow through with a formal complaint.”

St. Onge wrote:

“I made an ignorant, narrow, thoughtless statement based on a presumed stereotype of a culture that I do not understand. I cannot claim to have any understanding of the Jewish community or any religious belief for that matter, making it even more out of line to comment on. I do not have either the intelligence or education to have a well spoken conversation on religious views or history. My statement was in no way intended to be hateful or exclusive to anyone. It was an error in words, a lack of understanding, and a mistake in judgement for anyone at any level of an organization to make. I have not, and will not ever treat someone different based on race, ethnicity, age, religion or otherwise and I do not support those who do. It does not align with my values as a person, or as a supervisor.  I would hope that personal work history and character references from all aspects of my life would verify this. I take full responsibility for what I said.”

 

St. Onge has been transferred to another station, Gatto said.

“This matter is now closed for us,” Gatto wrote. “The Lt. and the firefighter have worked out their differences.”

75_The Louis D. Brandeis Center _Fact Sheet Anti-Semitism

38 comments

Danielle Dobin July 28, 2020 at 6:38 pm

“Non-apology” apologies are the worst. Of course this was a hateful statement. My son volunteers at a Synagogue in Norwalk as a buddy to children – of all religions – with special needs. How can the synagogue feel confident calling Norwalk FD for help with a fire knowing one of their leaders is prejudiced against Jewish people. And Lt. St. Onge was clearly targeting Horelick for harassment as well. What sort of senior leader says something like this to a junior team member? I have such tremendous respect for Firefighter Horelick for standing up, despite the fact that he must be concerned about retaliation and for reporting this behavior by his superior at work. One week’s suspension is insufficient. Shame on Lt St Onge…I can only imagine what an investigation into his social media might find in terms of racism against other groups as well.

Denise DeMarsh July 28, 2020 at 7:02 pm

Unforgiveable. And his apology sounds like he’s not sorry he said what he said, he’s sorry he’s in trouble because of it.

Lindsay Perry July 28, 2020 at 7:40 pm

Not only does this diminish his ability to do his job, but it undermines his ability to serve the public. Are Jewish residents supposed to feel that should Sgt. Onge respond to a fire at their home they will be treated with compassion and respect? Such a disgrace.

Carol Watson July 28, 2020 at 8:16 pm

Seems like Norwalk has two sets of standards when it comes to racism – if the mayor and Bob Duff don’t like you for whatever reason (political) and they want you out anything you post on FB or say and they deem to be racist the mayor and others bully you for your resignation and calls the press because in their eyes you can no longer do your job of 20 years. Where are they now – why arent they calling for St. Onge to resign. Again all i can say is Double Standard. Shame on them. St. Onge has got to go! If one goes because they claim to be racist then they all should go!!!

Neil Cohn July 28, 2020 at 8:18 pm

Lt Pat St. Onge singled out a jewish subordinate with anti-semitic and hateful comments, more than once. This lenient punishment appears to be a nod and wink that anti-semitism and racism can be tolerated. Norwalk’s Mayor Rilling and Fire Chief Gatto must make a meaningful commitment to better policy and fighting anti-semitism and other forms of racial and social hate.

David bernstein July 28, 2020 at 9:53 pm

This is a joke right? The fire chief says they have settled their differences? There was no differences, that lieutenant used the same kind of speech (more than once I might add) that hitler used to exterminate our people! Have we forgotten about the Holocaust???? They settled there “differences” so much that the victim refuses to work with this lieutenant!
The fire department may consider this matter closed, but I can assure you, our people do not consider it closed.
How can this individual still be employed, much less be in charge of people when he on multiple occasions used hate speech toward the Jewish faith?
His explanation is self serving and a poor attempt at seeming contrite. He knew exactly what he was saying and what he was doing!
Good for the firefighter to stand up to this biased person. To have him employed by the city of norwalk is a slap in the face to each and every one of us Of the Jewish faith who live here. What kind of a representative is this man???? How can we as taxpayers be expected to employ such a person?? It is appalling and rest assured, you haven’t heard the last of us!!!

JustATaxpayer July 28, 2020 at 11:18 pm

The Democrat Union protects there own. Where is Harry on defunding the police? We’ve heard nothing.

Norwalk Taxpayer July 29, 2020 at 12:06 am

Wow really alarming. I would have never thought that such a thing could happen in my local town how unsettling. If you read a little bit of history you realize things like this make everything get out of hand and this is totally unacceptable. a one-week suspension is a joke to laugh at and does not help anyone and that apology couldn’t have been any more bigoted and insensitive. He should be fired

Top Cat July 29, 2020 at 1:15 am

“St. Onge has been transferred to another station…”

Hmmm… Where have I heard THAT before?

Dog owner July 29, 2020 at 6:55 am

Transferred to another station.
Sounds exactly like what our schools do with embattled administrators. They’re somebody else’s problem now.
This guy who made these comments must be friends with Rilling.
One week? Are you serious?
Where’s Rilling?

Drew Ablank July 29, 2020 at 8:30 am

Based on some previous issues with the NFD it’s clear that the bar for integrity has been set pretty low. The only part that is surprising is that anyone could think this is Okay to say.

Unbalanced July 29, 2020 at 9:26 am

One week with no pay and a transfer? That’s a slap on the wrist. Why wasn’t St. Onge fired or asked to resign like the other person who made a highly offensive racist statement? That would be the appropriate response.

John ONeill July 29, 2020 at 9:28 am

If St. One is not fired for anti semitic remarks, he should be fired for being stupid. Or. is this another example of union contracts which make it practically impossible to get rid of poor employees. Everyone above who want his head on a platter should review union contracts for all our city employees. They are a protected class.

Bryan Meek July 29, 2020 at 10:10 am

No disagreement these statements are awful. It’s hard, however, to know what punishment is justified. Presidential candidate Joe Biden, when he was VP, referred to questionable veteran loan administrators as Shylocks, also a derogatory term towards Jewish people. He apologized, but was never suspended or held to account for it. If the potential leader of the free world is held harmless for anti-Semitic comments, how can we hold a firefighter to a higher standard?

Piet Marks July 29, 2020 at 11:02 am

I am speechless once again. I believe this is the year 2020 and this man is still on the Public Payroll. Wasn’t the Republican registrar of voters removed for offensive statements on another group of people ?

Curious Voter July 29, 2020 at 12:04 pm

Rare? Not at all from what we hear. This one was simply made public when nothing was done about it. Thank you Mr. Horelick! Try going back several years and you’ll find plenty, IF anyone isn’t afraid to speak up fearing retribution.

Concerned resident July 29, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Thank you Nancy for meticulously reporting. Very important for people to realize anti semitism is still alive and strong even in our town! We can never forget what happened to all our Jewish brothers and sisters. This wasn’t a one-time thing. He’s made multiple attacks on Jews. Mayor Rilling please please take action and make our city safe again. This is only a relatively small indication of a big big problem. Not just for Jewish people but all races of people.

Concerned Norwalk Resident July 29, 2020 at 3:25 pm

I find this very troubling and it saddens me beyond belief. I know that there were issues” about 25 years ago with racial discrimination in the NFD when a couple of friends were hired on. It’s disgusting that it’s still happening. Along with his slap on the hand unpaid week off & transfer at the very least he should be required to complete some sensitivity training.

Carol Watson July 29, 2020 at 4:49 pm

Unbeleivable – Mayor Rilling states: “Hatred, prejudice, and anti-Semitism have no place in Norwalk or anywhere else. The comments made by Lt. St. Onge do not reflect the values and beliefs of our community or of the Norwalk Fire Department,” Rilling said. “His comments were ignorant and hurtful and unacceptable.”

Rilling said St. Onge could face termination “if an incident of this nature occurs again.”

Why wasnt the registar of voters given a second chance??? Oh was it because it was political!! Not a friend of Bob Duff or the Mayor!!! Mayor why the double standard??? What’s good for one is good for all! You set a precident with getting the Registar removed from her position of 20 years for her comment. Now it is time to do the same with St. Onge – you said it yourself there is no place for racism in norwalk.

Ron Morris July 29, 2020 at 5:22 pm

Bryan Meek
Also let us not forget that Trump referred to white supremacists as fine people.

Joe Ruggerio July 29, 2020 at 6:41 pm

Please, anyone expecting riling or duff to stand up and denounce this racism is seriously disillusioned. They will never come out and publically support it because the Jewish narrative does not fit the current Democrat narrative on racism.

Remember, outrage and loss of a job applies only to black American racism.

Jewess in Norwalk July 29, 2020 at 9:06 pm

I’m horrified that he only got ONE week. If it was racial comment I’m sure he would have been fired completely! It seems since he said it to a Jew something was done. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of these types of comments have left his mouth. We can not tolerate him as a public servant. Were he to be called to a Jewish persons rescue he may not act in good faith. Intolerable. He MUST be let go.

Proud Jew July 29, 2020 at 9:45 pm

Sad to see this in our amazing city of Norwalk. He is an anti Semite. Never again!! We will not be silent. He needs to be punished properly for his actions so others will not feel comfortable following this vicious rhetoric. I see a double standard. If this was another type of racially charged attack we would have seen this person fired and without his job. Mr mayor will need to do better!!

Norwalk Resident July 29, 2020 at 10:05 pm

This incident both saddens and scares me. How can we trust our public servants and first responders to perform their duties when they spout these hateful, prejudiced, and anti-semitic tropes to their own coworkers? We learn from history that silence is deafening and we can’t allow this rhetoric to become normalized and acceptable in our society. Mayor Rilling, we call on you to take a stand against Jewish hate and all forms of bigotry by firing Lt. Pat St. Onge. Transferring a problematic employee with a history of repeated anti-semitism towards his Jewish colleague is not going to fix this nor has that action worked in other instances of workplace abuse. We must demonstrate that this kind of behavior and prejudice will not stand in our great city and educate residents of all ages on the dangers of spouting hateful, bigoted, demonizing and false comments about Jews.

CT-Patriot July 29, 2020 at 11:18 pm

So if your Lyons you are forced into resignation for what was called racist.

But if you’re a Democrat and friends in high places in government you get a pass for a racist comment.

Got it!

This is rank hypocrisy!

“There is no place for racism in Norwalk”

Yeah, sure Harry..spoken like a true Democrat. Double standards as always. Bravo, your lack of action speaks volumes.

Sickened July 30, 2020 at 6:43 am

This is sickening! As a Jew in Norwalk I’m disgusted. Disgusted with the hateful comments of high ranking member of the fire department directed at his direct subordinate. Equally disgusted with the response from the mayor and fire chief by allowing this to happen and taking NO steps to ensure this doesn’t happen again.
We as Jews have been marginalized, discriminated against, and endured hate for far too long.
But nobody seems to care about us. That is the message I got from this. The mayor and the fire chief don’t care about Jews. They can pretend they do by trying to talk tough, but their response was weak! Imagine if this firefighter was black and one of the horrible stereotypes about them was said.

This would be national news and the lieutenant would have long been fired. But no! It was just towards a Jew so who cares.
How can this man be allowed to continue his employment when this wasn’t even the first time he said something like this!
If I need the fire department for anything now I have to worry if this guy will show up and if he will treat my family the same way he would treat yours.
His apology is empty and devoid of meaning. The words of someone who got caught and is attempting to cover his tracks. If he would say this directly to a Jew, what does he think that he won’t say out loud?
Every single jew and anyone who supports equality for all people should contact the mayor and the fire chief and let them know we can’t have a racist bigot working for US.
Racism apparently DOES have a place in Norwalk, it’s allowed at the fire department and tolerated by city hall.

Peter Franz July 30, 2020 at 12:27 pm

I’ll leave the whataboutism to the experts, but this seems a fairly straightforward professional issue. The words were not spoken online (not sure why anyone thinks that’s comparable) but on site in front of subordinates. There’s no reason this person should have a “managerial” or officer-level position. We are lucky to have hardworking people on the fire department, so I’m not suggesting a firing. I’m a proud supporter of Unions, but admit they can be self-defeating when defending bad actors. Immediate demotion.

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