Tampa firefighter fighting racism in his firehouse

Andrew Dixon says becoming a firefighter was his calling. Now, he's up against a different battle. This one is in his firehouse.

"Once you check out mentally, it's hard to come back from," Dixon, a Tampa firefighter, said. "I almost honestly was to that point a few weeks ago," he said.

Dixon said in February, he and another African American firefighter on his shift at Station 13 found a monkey hanging from the station's ceiling.

"I find it ironic how this monkey that was in the station that was over in a corner collecting dust, you know, with old equipment on it and everything. Nobody cared about it, and now, out of the blue, we're going into Black History Month, and now there's a hanging monkey 30 feet up in the air with a noose tied to it," he said.

Dixon said they reported it to their engine captain.

"His exact comments were, "Well, technically, we all come from monkeys, so you shouldn't feel that bad," he said.

The monkey found hanging from the firehouse ceiling 

Dixon said Tampa Fire Rescue did an investigation and conducted interviews. He said he was told those involved said the incident was a way to honor Busch Gardens, the station's neighbor.

"I'm like, that's not a great tribute, you know? If we wanted to pay tribute to Busch Gardens, we could've gotten stuffed lions or all kinds of animals and put them in a front where everybody can see," Dixon said.

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Dixon said he was told the investigation had concluded, and no other action was taken. He said that's when things escalated, specifically Thursday.

"I open my locker, and I go to move my bedding in my locker, and I see a white piece of paper that's folded two times. I slide down my bedding. So I grabbed the piece of paper, and I open it. Sure enough, there's a picture of me with the word monkey text going across my forehead. So, immediately my emotions take over, and I just dropped the paper on the floor," Dixon said.

Dixon thinks it's retaliation for speaking out against the February incident. He said he pushed back against the incident more than anyone else.

"I also let my captains know, 'Hey, I'm not letting this go. Like, this isn't right. This should not be tolerated,'" he said. "They showed me their concern and condolences and everything, but my thing is, had we addressed the first situation, I don't know if we would have even gotten to this point," Dixon said.

Tampa Fire Rescue said in a statement, "Tampa Fire Rescue takes these allegations extremely seriously. We have turned the matter over to Tampa Police Department to investigate."

The Tampa Police Department said its officers are thoroughly looking into the incident. They couldn't give any other details since it's an open and active investigation.

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Dixon said he is considering transferring stations but hasn't decided yet.

"The way that I am, I'm like, 'well, I didn't do anything wrong, you know? So why should I be moved?' I kind of feel like that makes me look like I did something wrong. I'm like, well, you know, 'I didn't do anything wrong, so I don't think I should be moved. Let's find out who did this, and let's move them,'" Dixon said.

He said the same people he suspects hung the monkey are in his paramedic class at Hillsborough Community College and have been harassing him there too.

"I'll have days when I mentally break down, and I'll have to make a call. I'll have to call my wife. I'll have to call my mom and dad," he said.

Dixon said his story isn't the first like this, but people are scared to speak up in the fire department. 

He hopes that speaking out will help address what he sees as a deep-rooted issue within the department.