Views differ on progress of efforts against harassment, bullying at Fairfax Co. Fire and Rescue

A fire engine races to the scene of an emergency.(Getty Images/iStockphoto/MattGush)

WASHINGTON — Two sharply different pictures were painted Tuesday about efforts to fight sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying at Fairfax County Fire and Rescue.

While Fairfax Board Supervisors were being told of an improving workplace climate at county firehouses, Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley sent a letter to Fairfax County Fire Chief Richie Bowers, first made public by WUSA9, charging that the agency “tolerates and often defends sexual harassment, retaliation and a hostile work environment.”

Stanley stepped down as the leader of a women’s advocacy group in the fire department, charging that the job was “for show.”

But when the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee asked the fire department for an update Tuesday on efforts to improve workplace culture, it was told that progress was being made.

“The team has made some positive improvements to date … we’re all in on this and we’re making a difference,” Bowers told the committee.

“Ninety-five percent of the women have not had any problems due to their gender,” Lt. Katja Lancing added to the committee. 

Lancing, who heads a women’s working group in the fire department, said her findings were based on a survey of the agency’s 167 female firefighters, including one-on-one interviews.

“We all believe that we’re given the same opportunity as the men, same promotions, same training, everything,” she said.

Lancing also told board supervisors the number of women firefighters are growing, as are the number of female officers in the department.

It was after the 2016 suicide of firefighter Nicole Mittendorff that Fairfax confronted a fire department culture that investigators said included harassment and bullying.

“It is all the more critical and important that we have a strong culture of respect and a very strong culture that protects all of our personnel against bullying or harassment,” said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova.

Dick Uliano

Whether anchoring the news inside the Glass-Enclosed Nerve Center or reporting from the scene in Maryland, Virginia or the District, Dick Uliano is always looking for the stories that really impact people's lives.

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