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Fairfax County, give your next fire chief a fighting chance

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Previous coverage of this issue

Each day The Washington Post prints these words “Democracy Dies in Darkness”. It’s the very case the Post is allowing me to make on its Local Opinions page, though I use 739 additional words to make the point. Since my retreat from reporting the news more than seven-years-ago, I’ve tried to advance the cause of transparency in local governments, particularly the local government that serves me.

I freely admit the public safety agencies in Fairfax County, Virginia get an oversize share of my attention via But they also get more of my money than any other local government.

I was honored to serve on the Ad Hoc Police Practices Review Commission formed by Fairfax County in 2015, with my focus on communications issues. As you will read in the Post, I believe Fairfax County officials need to review parts of the commission’s final report to see the path forward for the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department after almost two years of sexual harassment and discrimination allegations.

Some of the finest people I’ve met have worked for this wonderful fire department. They are about to get a new leader. My overall message for those who will be choosing the chief is simple: don’t set that person up to fail.

Get this ugly chapter behind you, now. Shine a bright light on what has occurred and make sure your firefighters and the people you serve hear the truth — whatever it is — directly from you.

Please read my thoughts in The Washington Post, and provide your comments here or on the Post website.

It’s time for Fairfax County to finally be transparent about harassment in the fire department

Dave Statter is a fire service consultant who lives in Fairfax County.

The retirement of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department Chief Richard R. Bowers Jr. is probably being viewed as a way to finally get past embarrassing headlines over claims of sexual harassment and discrimination in the department. Bringing in a new chief — particularly one not attached to or defensive about the mistakes of the past — can bring positive change. The challenge now is creating an environment where a new boss is able to succeed. This can happen only if Fairfax County leadership is finally willing to share with the entire department and the public what has really occurred since the 2016 suicide of firefighter Nicole Mittendorff.

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