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 The funding support is also being withdrawn from the budget because the BFC has allegedly seriously breached the terms of an employment agreement for paid EMS personnel with the town in effect since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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