A Fairfax County supervisor says she’s “fit to be tied” over comments condoning bullying allegedly made by fire department captain.
WUSA9 broke the story of a letter written by a parent of a fire recruit, one year after the suicide of Fairfax County paramedic Nicole Mittendorff, who was bullied online by people who appeared to be firefighters.
The letter writer wondered what Mittendorff’s parents would think.
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“No other parent needs to live with what I’ve gone through,” said Marde Clardy, the mother of Nicole Mittendorff.
Exactly one year after the 31-one-year old disappeared, Mittendorff’s mother Marde Clardy returned to the spot in White Oak Canyon of Shenandoah National Park where her daughter’s body was found. She had hanged herself.
“That’s a slap in the face to the fire department because she used the tools and training she learned,” said Clardy.
“I do not want anyone else to have the burden I have to bear,” said Clardy who spoke to WUSA9’S Northern Virginia Bureau Chief by phone from a remote part of a Midwestern state.
Clardy wasn’t surprised to read the angry comments from a parent of a current recruit.
That parent, and another confirmed that a captain made comments about hazing and bullying that seem to condone boys will be boys type of behavior. It happened on April 21st at the recruit’s family night event.
“I think it’s the same old, same old in the fire department and Chief Bowers says they are making progress and progress takes time. I think he’s giving it way too much time,” said Clardy.
She was pleased that another captain stood up and corrected the first captain, emphatically explaining the chief’s pledge about bullying to the recruits’ parents. However, the correction did not assuage the parent who wrote the letter.
“I have a zero tolerance for any of that type of behavior,” said Fairfax Fire Chief Richard Bowers. He says if those comments were made, they’re unacceptable. He says he’s investigating.
Chief Bowers answers to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. WUSA9 asked all supervisors to comment on the letter. Most responded expressing shock and anger over the comments.
“There’ s cancer in the department. Some individuals just don’t get it,” said Dranesville Supervisor John Foust.
Mason Supervisor Penny Gross said she’s so angry she’s “fit to be tied.” She said the comments are a “violation of the employee handbook rules and the code of conduct.”
Chairman Sharon Bulova said, “If the captain did indeed say those things at the meeting, he must be disciplined.”
“Developing tough skin is not the job of firefighters. Their job is to save lives,” remarked Clardy, an AirForce Veteran.
She says she asked Chief Bowers if she could speak to the recruit class, but was never invited. The Chief said that he is still considering the request.
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“I could stand right there in front of them and they could see what a parent looks like who has lost a child… I would tell them to watch what they do and say,” she said.
Last month, Clardy was finally allowed to read the note her daughter left behind in her Mini Cooper she parked at a White Oak Canyon lot.
“She didn’t have the self-esteem that I thought she did,” said Clardy.
What could’ve save Nicole? “That the culture was such she felt that she could’ve asked for help," she said.
Clardy said she has tremendous respect for firefighters and admires the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department and Chief Bowers.