NOTE: It’s been brought to my attention my comments on this story left an impression that was not intended. Let me be clear that I’m not against the consultant’s look into these issues. In fact, I’m quite pleased that Fairfax County shared this report with the public. There appears to be a lot to learn from what’s in the report. In fairness, I should have made sure all of this was included with my critical comments. Still, my concern last year and now is that Fairfax County did not hire an outside investigator to look at ALL of the lawsuits and various other claims that surfaced in the wake of Firefighter Nicole Mittendorff’s suicide. This is needed in an effort to be fair to the accused and the accusers. This should have been SOP after allegations questioned the integrity of both department leadership and the investigator — since removed from his job — responsible for looking into harassment/discrimination claims. So, while I have high praise for Fairfax County officials ordering and sharing this report, they still owe everyone transparency on the serious claims that have been made against the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department.
For 10-months there has not been any kind of real characterization of the concerns of firefighters in the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department following the suicide of Firefighter Nicole Mittendorff. Beginning last April there were numerous news stories about online bullying of Firefighter Mittendorff and other female firefighters, a series of harassment and discrimination lawsuits (including at least one targeting senior leadership) and the removal of the man responsible for internal investigations. Despite publicizing a meeting with female employees Chief Richard Bowers never shared the sense of his firefighters over these issues. Now, that information has become available in a consultant’s report that you can read here.
The report without an independent investigation into the serious charges that were made last year is just window dressing. With allegations surfacing that spread to the top of the department, County Executive Edward Long and Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova should have insisted on more than a consultant’s report.
As a resident of the county, I still urge Fairfax County get to the bottom of these claims by engaging an outside investigator. You still owe that to those who made these claims, those in charge and those, who pay your salaries.
Bullying, harassment and discrimination are perceived to be problems in parts of the Fairfax County Fire Department and nearly 40 percent of firefighters responding to a survey had experienced or witnessed it, according to a new report released Wednesday.
The analysis of the culture of the Fairfax County Fire Department was commissioned by the county in the wake of the high-profile suicide of firefighter Nicole Mittendorff, who was the subject of sexist and derogatory comments on a local Web forum before her death last April. It remains unclear who posted the remarks on the Fairfax Underground forum, or if they played a role in Mittendorff’s suicide, but fire department officials have been exploring whether the messages may have been posted by her colleagues.
Mittendorff’s death and a series of lawsuits by other female firefighters alleging discrimination and sexual harassment prompted questions about the treatment of women in the department and touched off a discussion nationally about the low number of women in firefighting and the problems they face.
The 53-page report by a management consultant group found strong dedication and pride among the Fairfax department’s 1,400 rank-and-file firefighters, but also issues with bullying, senior leadership and conflict management.