Montgomery Co. fire chief warns against incidents of harassment of custodial staff

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County’s Chief of Fire and Rescue Services has sent out a department-wide email explaining he’d been made aware of “inappropriate” incidents by some staffers and warning the members of the staff that they are expected to work in an atmosphere “free of harassment and discrimination.”

In the email sent last Friday, Chief Scott Goldstein stated he’d been made aware of “conduct and interactions between FRS and contract custodial staff that is unacceptable.”

Goldstein described the conduct relayed to him as including vulgar inappropriate sexual comments, flirtatious comments, negative comments regarding “diverse neighboring communities” and comments and personal opinions related to Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals, all directed at members of the custodial staff who are contracted to work at the county’s various fire stations and facilities.

He indicated they were not isolated incidents, saying “Comments/concerns/occurrences have been cited from multiple FRS worksites with contract custodial staff. It is not limited to a single station or shift.”

He explained he’d instructed the department’s duty chiefs to remind staff members that they are expected to “serve with integrity and mutual respect” and that they are to “promote equity and harmony” among career and volunteer personnel.

Goldstein said that while most FRS staffers welcome and support the work of the custodial workers, “the inappropriate actions of a few destroy the work of many.”

The email didn’t go beyond saying that there had been “concerns” and “occurrences” relayed to him.

At a Monday morning briefing with reporters, Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer was asked about the letter, and said it was the first he was hearing of it.

Patrick Lacefield is a spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett. He wrote an email saying the county executive only heard about the chief’s email on Monday morning.

“My understanding is that no official complaints have been filed, this was based on feedback from contractors,” Lacefield wrote.

The custodial staff works on a contract basis—information regarding the contractor and how and when the feedback was supplied was not immediately available.

Goldstein said his equal employment opportunity officers had been contacted by some of the custodial staff who work at six of the department’s 37 fire and rescue service buildings.

Capt. Dave Kennedy, one of those officers, and said he was approached by some of the contract workers on Jan. 27 about comments they had overheard or that had been directed at them.

Kennedy said Monday he asked the custodial workers whether they wanted to file a formal complaint and says the workers — he didn’t specify how many — said they just wanted the issue addressed.

Goldstein said that while no formal complaints were made, he’s open to investigating further should the need arise. He says he issued the Feb. 9 email to make the department’s stance on issues surrounding equity clear: “Our guiding principles as a department do not support inappropriate behavior, and I do not support actions that would be disrespectful, hurtful or discriminatory.”

Kennedy, who is African-American, said he feels the Fire and Rescue Service does a good job of addressing issues of discrimination, and says Goldstein’s letter helps illustrate that. “Because if you don’t have buy-in from the top, you won’t have buy-in from the bottom,” he said.

While it can be frustrating to deal with discrimination, Kennedy said, it’s gratifying to see that staff and the employees of the county’s contractors feel confident in coming to him with their concerns. “The greatest thing for me is to see that people come to me and feel comfortable telling me when they don’t feel that they’re being treated right. It’s my job and my team’s job to make sure that we make that right.”

Goldstein said he wants to reassure staff members and contract employees that they will get heard.

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