Former La Habra Heights firefighter sues department for harassment

LA HABRA HEIGHTS, Calif. (KABC) -- A former Southern California firefighter is suing the department he once worked for, claiming he was harassed and even attacked.

Since he was a boy, Jared Hartstein dreamed of being a firefighter in his hometown of La Habra Heights.

He finally started as a volunteer.

He said the problems at the fire station started right away.

"The acting lieutenant grabbed his flash hood, and he held it up like a KKK mask," Harstein explained.

He said he tried to ignore it, hoping it was a one-time thing, but then it got worse.

"...Do Hitler Nazi salutes to me on a couple of occasions. On my last shift, they drew a swastika in my training paperwork," Harstein added.

Then, he actually felt he was in danger.

"They tangled me and my partner up in multiple fire hoses, and they shut off my air supply. I couldn't breathe. There was no oxygen coming to my mask," he said.

Harstein's attorney, Bradley Mancuso, said the former firefighter has post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the oxygen incident.

Hartstein is filing a lawsuit against the department, alleging harassment. His attorney claims his superiors at the fire department appeared to accept what was happening.

"There was always some higher-up that was there witnessing it, whether it be a lieutenant, a captain, and at least on one occasion if not more, the fire chief was there...and not only did he not say anything but laughed about it," Hartstein shared.

According to the complaint, firefighters also attacked Hartstein's sexuality, a barrage of insults, and he finally left the department after about six months.

"It just really hurts being labeled for my religion and culture when I just want to be a firefighter," he said. "I don't want to be known as anything else."

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