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UPDATED: Berlin, MD cuts all funds to volunteer fire company. Cites hostile work conditions including homosexual slurs against career medics. VFC says it’s a control issue.

Image from Berlin Fire Company website.

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Newspaper editorial supports town’s position

Today the town of Berlin, in Worcester County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, announced it was cutting ties and stopping all financial aid to the Berlin Fire Company. The monetary loss is about $600,000 or a third of the fire company’s budget. The issue, according to news reports, is a long brewing battle over continued charges of a hostile work environment, discrimination and sexual harassment against career EMS employees assigned to the firehouse.

Mayor Gee Williams told reporters the town would not be a part of this “culture of intolerance and ignorance”.  The department’s attorney says the real issue is one of control and not sexual harassment.

Shawn J. Soper, mdcoastdispatch.com (this is a lengthy article with additional background information):

The Berlin Mayor and Council on Tuesday announced it will amend its fiscal year 2013 budget to cease all financial aid to the BFC as a result of the organization’s inability to accept basic requirements of the town’s personnel policies to eliminate workplace harassment based on sexual orientation, race and sex of paid emergency medical services (EMS) employees at the Berlin Fire House. The funding support is also being withdrawn from the budget because the BFC has allegedly seriously breached the terms of an employment agreement for paid EMS personnel with the town in effect since 2009. 

“Over the past six months, the Mayor and Council have done all that we can within our legal and moral authority to protect the rights of the paid EMS personnel who have been working as leased employees under the terms of an agreement enacted January 1, 2009,” said Berlin Mayor Gee Williams in a press release. “The fire company has been unsuccessful in its attempts to prevent some volunteer members from harassing Berlin’s paid EMS employees in the workplace that the town firmly believes is both unacceptable and illegal.”

Charlene Sharpe, delmarvanow.com (updated article):

Joe Moore, attorney for the Berlin Fire Company, denies that the town’s decision to cut funding is due to harassment allegations. He said the issue between the town and the fire company relates to control.

“The sole matter of disagreement is related to who will control the operations and scheduling matters for Emergency Medical Service for the town of Berlin,” he said. “We did not accede that control to them.”

Paramedics alleged they were being harassed by both fellow EMS employees and Berlin Fire Company volunteers regarding sexual orientation, race and sex. One individual was repeatedly subjected to slurs relating to his perceived sexual orientation, according to a town official who did not wish to be named.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Anonymous

    Its about time. Besides the Harrassment, the volunteers think that they can use all the vehicles for their own use. I have seen their cars all the way at the Annapolis Mall.

    • Anonymous

      Berlin Fire Company does not own any “Cars” nor have they any assigned vehicles to any of their officers, so respectfully this comment can not be correct. You may have seen someone’s personal vehicle with the small Berlin Fire Co plate or the MVA issued plate but the company DOES NOT have any fire company owned cars

  • Anonymous

    They are almost as bad as PG County!

  • Cletus

    Nice to hear that ignorance and intolerance is alive and well in the “good ol’ boy network” on the Eastern Shore. What a bunch of ignorant, backwoods inbreds.

  • Andrew

    As with all news reports, I’m sure there is more to the situation than what is reported to Statter.
    I am a volunteer in VA, and my department has on occasion legitament reasons to have apparatus as far as 15 miles outside of our run area for the purposes of doing business for the department.
    As to the slurs against the volunteers, how can you think you’re any different than those that are being accused of harassment after making such comments?

    Statter – I’ll be interested to hear what these career guys have to say about all this.

    Andrew I.

  • Just sayin

    I guess now you uneducated, backwoods, intolerant idiots will have to take your own EMS runs … smooth move Einstien … just sayin

    • Anonymous

      The fire company made all the EMS runs anyway…the paid providers were simply “leased employees” from the town, so that they could receive state benefits, for all practical reasons they were still FD employees

  • mdff

    “Paramedics alleged they were being harassed by both FELLOW EMS EMPLOYEES and Berlin Fire Company volunteers regarding sexual orientation, race and sex”. So co-workers are also accused of harrassment. So it is not just the “ignorant, backwood imbreds” People need to read the entire article before you start hating the volunteers. Just baseing my opinion of what I read in the article.
    Not going to defend harrassment in any way although anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time in a firehouse can attest to many off-handed and percieved by the thinner skinned individuals as mean spirited comments being thrown around. Sure sounds like a power struggle between the Town and the Fire Company that the volunteer leadership cannot afford to fight.

  • The SlatMan

    mdff… your point about people being thin skinned about an off-hand remark is quite valid. However, it appears that what transpired isn’t just an off-hand remark or two. It is a shame that this also appears to be just a few individuals (both paid and volunteer), but it doesn’t change that harassment in any workplace (regardless of what it is targeting) that creates the “hostile” environment is not acceptable… even when it comes to public safety (police, fire, EMS).

  • HonkIfYouWatchedEmergency!

    Almost 25 years as a career, volunteer, and per diem Firefighter/Paramedic. Most of the contention I’ve witnessed has to do with power struggles. In this case, while there might be some, I can tell you that there’s a difference between joking around and harrassment. Sorry, I don’t care what your affiliation is in a department (career or volunteer) or your personal background is. Creating a hostile work environment for whatever reason, using whatever tactics, is unprofessional (no, you don’t need to be career to be “professional”), immature, disruptive, and has no place in the field that we all love. Do you really care what someone’s sexual orientation is when he or she is dragging out out of a fire when the roof collapses on you? Or saving your life because you were hit by a car while operating on the scene of an MVA? Or had a massive heart attack? If you do, move to some other country that shares your views, because I don’t want you anywhere near me, my colleagues, or the communities we serve. Keep politics and religion out of the station and off the rigs. Is it that hard to just focus on why you’re at the station and running calls?

  • Grant

    Alot of the people commenting are complete idiots as a member of Berlin calling us “backwoods inbreds” we are your everyday firemen and EMT’s. And saying we are almost as bad as PG county? I’m from PG county and they arent bad in the slightest. As far as our trucks at the Annapolis mall is a makeup lie thats pretty funny actually because our trucks never do leave the station except for a control burn or a call. So all you cityslickers that want to sit here and call us “ignorant, backwoods inbreds” can get up off your lazy self and work at the Fire Dept. and see how hard our job is seeing people die everyday and how someones death affects their whole family and the people around them. Thank You and have a good day.
    Cadet #4 Grant Gabell

  • http://bfkap@comcast.net bkap

    WOW! just read all the comments sounds like our GOVT you need all parties to go in a room and not come out until all situations are resolved Good Luck