Husband of firefighter who died from suicide calls for Fairfax chief’s resignation

WASHINGTON — Steve Mittendorff, the husband of Fairfax County firefighter Nicole Mittendorff, who was the subject of online bullying and died by suicide in 2016, is calling for the resignation of Chief Richard Bowers and other agency heads.

Mittendorff’s call for change at the top of the department came the day after Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley sent a letter to Bowers, stepping down as the leader of the department’s women’s advocacy group.

In a letter first made public by WUSA-TV, Stanley alleged the agency “tolerates and often defends sexual harassment, retaliation and a hostile work environment.”

Mittendorff said he is “deeply saddened” to hear that Stanley felt the need to leave her position.

“Shortly after the suicide of my wife Nicole, a promise was made to me by the Department that every effort to educate and re-shape the culture of this male dominated profession would be met; ultimately, to provide every female or male a safe place to work free of harassment by others and one that is open to progressive change,” wrote Mittendorff, in a statement forwarded to WTOP.

Mittendorff said he does not have personal knowledge of Stanley’s circumstances, nor access to the report that was recently shared with the county’s Board of Supervisors.

“I cannot comment on those items specifically; however, it is apparent that the Department has a lot more work to accomplish on this topic and it will be done under the microscope of public opinion,” wrote Mittendorff.

“I firmly believe the time has come for Deputy County Executive David M. Rohrer and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to re-evaluate the executive leadership of the Department and to ask for the immediate resignation of Chief Richard Bowers and his Assistant Chiefs by seeking new leadership for this plagued Department.”

In the days after his wife’s death, Mittendorff expressed hope that Bowers would be able to reshape the culture in the county’s firehouses, and expressed willingness to help work toward that end.

However, Mittendorff said he has not been in recent contact with Bowers, at least since May 2017, when Mittendorff expressed disappointment that the firefighters’ union speculated on the reasons for his wife’s suicide.

Mittendorff said he maintains contact with several of his wife’s friends in the fire service.

“I continue to have faith, high praise, and support for the women and men of this agency but I do believe it is time for a significant leadership change,” he wrote.

WTOP contacted Bowers, who declined to comment on Mittendorff’s call for his resignation.

“I don’t have to, or don’t want to respond to anything he’s said,” Bowers said, by phone. “He doesn’t work for me, and he doesn’t work for the county.”

“I’m working to continue to make the department even better,” Bowers said. “We have people who follow the rules, and anybody who does not do the right thing will have to answer.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova told WTOP she can feel Mittendorff’s frustration.

“I know Steve Mittendorff has experienced a trauma, and the loss of his wife was tragic. I understand he is expecting the county to maintain an atmosphere in fire and rescue that is professional and respectful.”

“Chief Bowers is taking this very, very seriously, as is our Deputy County Executive for Public Safety Dave Rohrer,” said Bulova. “They are committed, as is the Board of Supervisors, that recommendations from the assessments we commissioned will be followed.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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