David L. Washington oral history interview, 2009 March 18. OH-01922. [Audio recording] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas,
Standardized Rights Statement
What was it like when women came onto the department? Was it like it was back in the 60s when blacks started coming in? Sure it was. In fact, I misspoke. I said that when the women came on I was in support services. That's not true because I was in support services — it's like a logistics officer. That was after I was a training officer. I was a training officer when women first came on the department. In fact, I overheard brothers saying, oh, man, we don't need them women; they're going to be taking our jobs. And I told them no one's going to take your job if you are prepared for that next promotion. I just believe that everybody has a right to choose a type of employment. And if, in fact, they are physically, mentally capable of handling that job, so be it because I've seen men that some women made them look like chumps. Oh, yeah. Not a lot. But there are some women that are much stronger than some of the guys because they're small stature. Like me, I used to lift weights when I was younger. But people think I lift weights. I stopped lifting weights a long time ago. But I've always tried to keep myself in good shape because when I was a training officer I knew I had to be a certain type of a role model and I couldn't be running around with a big gut on me and talking about training people. And also even when I became the fire chief I thought I needed to look a certain way. And I learned from a couple of different guys — in fact, Monroe Williams was one; Carlos Sepeta, Hispanic guy; and [Jim] Grisby -- what was his first name? But anyway, these guys, were always clean. I mean these are firefighters. They sent their class B uniform to the cleaners. And their shoes were always shined. And I used to watch these guys and say, man, I want to look like them. So I always patterned myself after those guys who made sure that they were always looking good. And you should. And we get clothing allowances. And people still ~ you have to get on them. Man, why you going to wear these pants that, you know, your wallet is showing through? Come on. The shape of your wallet in your back pocket because you just wore the pants down. Anyway, that stuff is unacceptable to me. But, yeah, when I started as a firefighter, then I went into public education / public information where we gathered news information, we went out and did public speaking on fire safety in the classrooms. And from there we had ~ the black firefighters filed a complaint. We started to get together — and I know I'm all over the place. This is fine. Okay. I believe it was in 1977. I had been on three years. We tried to get a group of us together, but it just didn't work. We met at Larry Powell's house. Then the next time we had the Westside Art Gallery [West Las Vegas Arts Center, 947 West Lake Mead Boulevard]. We started meeting again. This time it stuck because we started talking about - because when you get a group of people in a room, Claytee, and you start asking about what happened to you? Wait a minute. We see a pattern going on here. And then we started mobilizing and we had basically an ad hoc group, which Larry Powell and I were the two spokespersons. And ultimately we became a charter in 501(c)(3), a nonprofit organization, fraternal organization [Black Firefighters Association], And I was the president for the first two terms. Yeah, two terms I served as president. I left there a happy guy. And I love everybody who served under me because I believe that a leader has a responsibility. And you're not going to always be liked as you know. When you're a leader or a supervisor, somebody's going to find something to be angry with you about. And you can't get angry back and say I'm going to get them because I don't think God's going to bless you if you do that. And that's just my spiritual way of thinking about my job, which I tried to take into my job. And we were just at a meeting this past week with the black chief and officers. And I was telling them I had a praise team. They was like, "What, a praise team?" I said, "Yeah, man, because they were coming at me every kind of way they could." I also had me a civilian five-panel advisory board. I never used them often, but I had them. I recruited them after my first two or three years as a fire chief. But as far as the praise team, going out the box, I told them, "Let's go to lunch. I need a special prayer." Or sometimes these people just call me and say "I'm going to pray for you today."