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‘Despicable’: Pennsylvania Firehouse Company Temporarily Shut Down After Audio Surfaces of Members Using Racist Language and Mocking an 8-Year-Old Black Girl Killed By Local Police

A volunteer fire company in Pennsylvania has been shut down for 30 days after several firefighters were caught on tape making racist statements about Blacks moving into the area, and mocking an 8-year-old girl killed by police in 2021.

Briarcliffe Volunteer Fire Company has been suspended by the Darby Township Board of Commissioners for 30 days after members of their station were recorded making derogatory comments about Black people.

District Attorney Jack Stollsteimer said that “initial ballistics analysis” has concluded with “near certainty” that bullets fired by [police officers killed eight-year-old Fanta Bility on Aug. 27. Photo: Action News 6/ YouTube screenshot

A letter from a Goodwill Fire Company board member presented to the Darby Township Board of Commissioners revealed that the remarks were made after a virtual meeting between the Goodwill, Darby and Briarcliffe firehouses.

The agenda of the call, according to the Philly Voice, was for state and county officials to explore the possibility of consolidating the three companies.

It noted that after many of the participants logged off, including the politicians, six Briarcliffe members stayed on. A few members from the other houses remained on and listened quietly, recording up to 94 minutes’ worth of conversation that they gave to Delco Resists, a community organization that later posted it on its social media.

The letter said in part, “Suddenly, there was the sound of a group of people discussing the meeting while using foul inappropriate language.”

According to the letter, firefighters used racial epithets to describe the fire chief and firefighters on his staff.

One of the complaints by a white member was that too many Black people were moving there, and thus it was “time to leave.” The letter also spoke about one member from the Briarcliffe firehouse that said he wanted to fight members of the Goodwill firehouse.

The saddest comment was the mocking of the name of Fanta Bility, a child who recently lost her life as a result of police-involved violence at the Academy Park High School in Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania.

In August 2021, she was outside of a football game where three officers fatally shot her. They each were charged with voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter and reckless endangerment in her death. 

The audio of the comments was recorded.

Bruce Castor Jr., the attorney for Bility’s family, shared that the family was “appalled” about the alleged comments. 

A statement from those relatives read, “A kind and loving girl, Fanta brightened the lives of everyone she met. To speak of her with such disrespect shines the light of shame on those people at the firehouse making the remarks, and reflects negatively on those good and true first responders who pledge their lives to the service of all members of the community.”

The statement continued, “By brazenly mocking Fanta and her death, some associated with Briarcliffe Fire Department did a disservice to the community they are sworn to protect, thereby reopening wounds from that fateful night when Fanta lay mortally wounded, though conscious, knowing her life drained away. To trivialize what this young girl endured that night gives new meaning to the descriptive ‘despicable.’ “

The family would also like disciplinary actions taken against those who made jokes about the child. 

Also, politicians were outraged. 

Delaware County Councilman Richard Womack remarked at a press conference, “We know that this is not right to the residents, and we want to make sure that the residents are treated fairly. And to have these kinds of actions taken and these kinds of remarks made, it’s just unacceptable.” 

He added, “We will continue to do what we have to do to make sure this does not happen again in Darby Township or in any other township or borough because no one should have to be subject to that.”

“Today, I joined community members, officials, and firefighters who stood together to condemn these racist, hateful, and disrespectful statements.” U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon tweeted.

“Such language has no place in civil society and is a betrayal of public trust when uttered by public servants.”

While many lawmakers and community stakeholders are angered by the comments, some are looking forward to the people unifying and working to remove them from service.

State Sen. Anthony Williams said on his Facebook Live, ” We must always stand against racism and bigotry. Our light will drive out the darkness that has come from a group of firefighters in Delaware County.”

The letter expressed the collective sentiment from the community about Briarcliffe Firefighters’ remarks, “This is not appropriate and does not belong in the township.”

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