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EXCLUSIVE: Axed firefighter alleges racism

Gilbert Darrell, a seven-year veteran of the South Schenectady Fire Department, said he believes his dismissal in December was racially motivated, but those he is accusing contend that it is really just a personality conflict.

Darrell is awaiting the final ruling on a 2008 harrassment complaint, which could include damages of up to $10,000. The decision is scheduled to be handed down in the coming weeks, and will be based on a November hearing regarding a human rights complaint Darrell filed with the state in September 2008 alleging arbitrary disciplinary actions because of his race.

At the hearing, former colleague Robert Mercoglan testified on Darrell's behalf, saying Chief James P. DeLorenzo, who left the department at the end of 2008, used Darrell's race as "a means by which to humiliate and embarrass him." Mercoglan also testified that he heard "derogatory remarks made about [the] complainant's race, both by Chief James DeLorenzo and by fire commissioners William MacMillan and Louie Morrett."

Attorney Thomas Witz, who is representing Morrett and MacMillan, said the issues regarding Darrell and DeLorenzo, who attended the November hearing, are merely personality conflicts and firehouse politics.

"This has nothing to do with race, and Mr. Darrell has played the race card," said Witz.

A volunteer firefighter with more than 12 years of experience, Darrell is working toward a paramedic degree at SUNY Cobleskill with the hope of becoming a full-time fireman and eventually earning a Ph.D in hospital administration. He said he is worried about the effect his record with South Schenectady will have on those plans.

"It's going to be hard to defend my position when they [other fire departments] look at my seven-year record at South Schenectady and look [to] the current administration for recommendations," said Darrell. "I'm sure that there's not a lot of good things that the current administration could say about me. It would look really bad to anybody's eyes unless there was something to back up my claims that I had been mistreated."

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