Sexual Harassment of Female Firefighters: New Year, Same Old Headlines

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Once again, we see fire departments in the United States in the headlines—for all the wrong reasons

Apparently, we learned nothing from last year’s litigation brought against fire departments by female firefighters who20160510_You lack discipline claimed they were victims—no, make that targets!—of sexual harassment at the hands of their “brother” firefighters and officers, did we?

Apparently, we learned nothing from last year’s tragic suicide of Nicole Mittendorf, a Firefighter/Paramedic with the Fairfax County (Va.) Fire Rescue Department, who’s death was driven by cyber-bullying by her “brother” firefighters in her OWN department, did we?

We must make 2017 the year that this illegal, immoral and unethical behavior on the part of male firefighters ends!

We must make 2017 the year that the tolerance for this illegal, immoral and unethical behavior on the part of male firefighters by fire department leaders ends!

We must make 2017 the year that statements like this, from local governments, are viewed for what they are: unadulterated BS.

Without admitting guilt, the city [Petaluma] settled with Waters for $1.25 million, after spending $500,000 in legal fees. For its part, the city said that Waters did not give supervisors a chance to address her concerns and instead filed the lawsuit while on a leave of absence.

Sexual harassment of any city [Petaluma] employee should never be tolerated, and the city has a zero-tolerance policy. Still, the Petaluma Fire Department needs to undergo a sea change to ensure that this never happens again.

Come again? Without admitting guilt? I don’t know about the average citizen, but when I see a local government gavel and moneypaying $1.75 million to a plaintiff in a sexual harassment case, I see “guilty”, how about you?

What a waste of taxpayer money! Not just for the legal settlement and all the associated legal fees and staff work in local government to attempt to defend the city.

But also, what a waste of taxpayer money that was spent training and equipping this woman for the job. This is an example of extremely poor ROI and it was all “self-inflicted” by the city, the department and its leaders.

What really gets me angry about cases like this is what’s denied. The community was denied the enthusiasm and talents that this woman brought to the job. They’ll never know what kind of impact she would have had.

Finally, this woman was denied a career opportunity–and everything that came with it–through no fault of her own.

This kind of stuff [sexual harassment of female firefighters] is rampant in the fire industry and really needs to stop—Commenter on LinkedIn responding to the post on the Petaluma lawsuit

Fire departments across this country are facing a multitude of problems that include: lack of money and people; recruitment and retention; mental health issues and firefighter suicide; and cancer rates among firefighters. These are all very important issues that must be address and fire service leaders struggle to address them every day.

See Related: The Coming Tsunami of Sexual Harassment Litigation

So, when I see cases like Petaluma—and hundreds of other like it in just the past couple of years—it makes me think: Does anyone else see how sexual harassment towards female firefighters ultimately has a negative impact on those other major challenges for a fire department?

Slide1

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Avatar
Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec and his wife of 30+ years now make their home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, rpa1157@gmail.com.