All personnel from Miami fire station transferred after noose incident, chief says

Lieutenant's family photos defaced; noose draped over one photo, authorities say

MIAMI – City of Miami Department of Fire-Rescue Chief Joseph Zahralban said all personnel from Miami Fire Station No. 12 were removed after a September incident that left six firefighters unemployed.

Zahralban said at a news conference Friday that the fire department was notified about the incident on Sept. 9. He said he went to the fire station at 2:30 a.m. to see the disturbing images himself that targeted Lt. Robert Webster.

"When I arrived, I was disgusted and I was appalled by what I had seen -- the defacement of multiple family photos, graphic and obscene renderings and a noose draped over one of the photos," Zahralban said.

"When I looked at the photos, quite honestly, I could not help but to imagine my family, my wife, my kids depicted in those photos. To me, it was unconscionable that something like this could occur in one of my fire stations."

Zahralban said this was the first time in the department's history that they have transferred all personnel from a fire station after an incident. 

He said the Miami Police Department was notified immediately after he became aware of the allegations.  

In the end, six firefighters would be fired who authorities said were directly involved in the incident: Lt. Alejandro Sese, David Rivera, Harold Santana, Justin Rumbaugh, Kevin Meizoso and Capt. William W. Bryson, who is the son of former Miami Fire Chief William "Shorty" Bryson. 

"Today is a difficult day for the city of Miami," Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado said at the news conference. "The city of Miami and this administration is very proud of the police and firefighters. They have done above and beyond what they need to do to service the people of Miami. What happened -- it's very difficult to digest and we're here to explain." 

Regalado said the city has gone through tough times in the past, but most of its residents have learned to peacefully work together in one of the most diverse cities in the U.S.

"The city of Miami has had growing pains," Regalado said. "I, as a resident, as a journalist, as an elected official, I have lived through the riots in Liberty City, in Overtown, in the West Grove, in Wynwood.

"That is all in the past. Today, we have a perfect balance, but a very delicate balance. Everybody in this city looks different, but we all live, work and play together."

Webster spoke to Local 10 News on Thursday, calling his colleagues' actions stupid and offensive. 

"I believe in this brotherhood that we throw around so much," he said.

Webster said his colleagues had done "little things" before to demean him, so he knew this wasn't a bad joke when he found the noose and his family photos vandalized.

"Racism and the tools of hatred (are) like a loaded gun sitting on the table," Webster said. 

The station where the incident happened was dedicated to Willie Waters, the first black firefighter hired within a major department in the state.

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