Men could stop sexual harassment in the fire service tomorrow

By: Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Update: I’ve updated this post because I was moved by the courageous post I read today from a fire service colleague, Angie Hughes, Captain (Ret.) Baltimore County (Mary.) Fire Department.

Or today, if it’s early enough in the day.

Men in the fire service need to “step up” and call out sexist and misogynistic behavior by their fellow male firefighters. Women in the fire service is not the problem.

A former law enforcement colleague told me one time if you want to commit the perfect crime, and get away with it, do it yourself and then tell nobody either before or after.

When I asked him to explain he said, “As soon as there’s a second person involved our chances [that of law enforcement] of catching you increases by about 90% because people talk.”

So what does that have to do with today’s topic? Simple. Nobody in a fire department sexually harasses a female firefighter—or worse, sexually assaults or rapes her—without somebody else knowing about it.

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Hush! Don’t go there! It’s true and you and I both know it. Why? Because in any fire department (big, small, career, volunteer, or combination) everybody knows everyone else’s business in the fire station. And even those outside the fire station learn about it eventually.

My fire service colleague, Captain (Ret.) Angie Hughes of the Baltimore County (Mary.) Fire Department posted this powerful piece of prose online, The Only “Wrong” Is Not Speaking Up. I challenge every man out there to read this and not feel the anger I felt towards the individual who had betrayed the “brotherhood” by raping a fellow firefighter. In a fire station.

You want to stop or prevent the women in your department from experiencing sexual harassment—or worse! —easy, just follow these simple rules:

Rule #1—Don’t you sexually harass any woman in any fire station. Period.

That’s the easy one now here’s “the biggie”:

Rule #2—If you see that someone else is sexually harassing a female member of your department (or any department for that matter) step in and tell them to stop. Do it loud. Do it in front of other people if possible. But the bottom line is to act.

Harassers are another species of bully. Like any other species of bully, they can only operate in the shadows. And right now, too many of these harassing bullies are operating in the shadows because the men they work with are unwilling to pull back the curtains and let the sun shine in on these vampires.

I didn’t just use the term vampire without thought. These “brothers” are vampires that suck the spirit from their victims; they suck the spirit and camaraderie out of the fire station; and they suck the organization’s reputation and integrity dry.

You want to stop sexual harassment of female firefighters? Stop providing cover for men who do!

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].