Are we truly brothers and sisters in the fire service?

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

I’ve written a great many times on the topic of sexual harassment, including rape, and other types of harassment that 20161122_a-womans-placewomen endure just because they are a firefighter. You can read those previous posts using the links at the end of this piece.

But the problem of acceptance in the fire service goes beyond that experienced by women. People of color (men and women), those who are gay or transsexual or just somehow just “different” are not as readily accepted—if they ever are—by the white male majority (For the record, I was a “card carrying” member of that white male majority when I was an active firefighter).

I greatly fear that the incivility of the Presidential campaign that just concluded its two-year “run” has coarsened our society greatly. Social media has become the vehicle through which anyone and everyone can express their “unfiltered” sexism, racism, homophobia, and xenophobia. People are saying things on-line that I think they would never say to a person’s face.

We all saw and felt it earlier this year when Fairfax County (Va.) Firefighter/Paramedic Nicole Mittendorf took her

The late Firefighter/Paramedic Nicole Mittendorf

The late Firefighter/Paramedic Nicole Mittendorf

own life by driving out to the Shenandoah National Forest—a distance of roughly 60 miles—and hanging herself. She did this after experiencing on-line bullying from male co-workers within her department.

It seems like daily that I read accounts on-line and in print where male firefighters and officers are getting in trouble for what they post on social media. Those firefighters and officers are being suspended from duty or being terminated from their employment because of their socially unacceptable on-line behavior.

But what’s appearing on social media is, in my opinion, just the “tip of the iceberg.” Women, people of color, and those who are members of the LGBT community are still being harassed and suffering discrimination from male members of their departments. Their so-called “brothers.”

Their fire departments are being tarnished by their actions as well. Particularly when investigations and lawsuits 20161122_sexist-postreveal that male leaders in those fire departments knew of the harassing and discriminatory behavior and did nothing about it.

The relationship and good-will that their department has with the community it serves are also diminished when the public learns of the sordid details of the behaviors of employees on “their payroll” taking place in the fire stations that their tax dollars paid for. As well they should.

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.” I’ve never forgotten that phrase because I had to type it a couple hundred times during my 9th grade typing class. I think it’s appropriate in this day and time to change one word in the hopes that it will strike a chord with the men in the fire service.

“Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their fire department.” What do you say, guys?

Related Links

The Coming “Tsunami”: Sexual Harassment Litigation

Definitions of Sexual Assault and Rape

Sexual Assault and Rape in Fire Service

If You’re a Male Firefighter You Should be Mad, Too

Male Privilege in the Fire Service


About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

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 and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].