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Investigation opened into racism in Brussels fire department

17:07 05/06/2020

Brussels secretary of state Pascal Smet (, responsible for emergency medical and fire services, has launched an independent investigation into allegations of racism in the capital’s fire brigade. The inquiry is to determine if structural racism exists inside the brigade as a number of incidents have been reported over the last few weeks.

Brussels parliamentarian Hicham Talhi (Ecolo) filed a legal complaint last month against a union spokesperson from the brigade who called politicians “bonobos” following an incident in Anderlecht when youth began beating police officers who were carrying out an arrest.

And this week news broke that a firefighter threw a banana at a black patient at Saint-Pierre Hospital in Brussels-City. The hospital reported the incident, which happened last month, to the fire brigade. According to a department spokesperson, an internal investigation is underway. Details on why the firefighter was in the hospital and what led to the incident have not been released.

‘White department’

Last year, meanwhile, a brigade recruit filed an internal complaint after finding racial slurs scrawled across his helmet. Smet has been informed that some firefighters regularly use racial slurs both in person and on social media.

“At the same time, I hear from firefighters in the field that they oppose racism,” Smet told Bruzz. “So it’s important to look into the culture within the department. Are these individual incidents or is there structural racism? We need to get to the root of the problem so we can address it.”

The investigation will take a few months, he said. “It is crucial that it is thorough. Once that happens, we can work up an action plan if necessary.”

Smet also said that the brigade in general is in sore need of diversification. “It’s a really white department,” he said, “and there are very few firefighters with a migration background or who are women. So many kids, of colour or not, with a migration background or not, look up to firefighters. We need to make the connection so that they take steps to become firefighters themselves. That’s a really big challenge.”

Photo ©Bruno Fahy/BELGA

Written by Lisa Bradshaw