The husband of the Fairfax County firefighter who committed suicide is calling for Fire Chief Richard Bowers' resignation a day after the top woman leader in the department resigned in a scathing letter to Bowers.
In the wake of the suicide of Fairfax County fire fighter Nicole Mittendorff in April of 2016, numerous complaints surfaced over the treatment of women in the department.
An independent consultant found problems and chief Richard Bowers told WUSA9 last year that he was committed to making changes. He appointed battalion chief Kathleen Stanley to be the Women’s Program Officer.
This week Stanley resigned that position in a scathing letter to the chief.
She claims the Fairfax County Fire & Rescue tolerates and often defend sexual harassment, retaliation and a hostile work environment and says she faced retaliation for "speaking out against current practices," which she says she brought to the attention of the fire chief.
She says that the current fire department environment is such that a male "Fairfax County Fire and Rescue employee felt comfortable enough to purchase a penis shape water bottle and use it in the station," she wrote. She listed 20-some specific complaints.
In response to Stanley's letter, Nicole Mittendorff‘s husband Steven Mittendorff, a Virginia State Trooper, called for Chief Richard Bowers to resign in a post on Facebook.
He said "It's apparent that neither them nor the local 2068 have done anything to correct issues brought to light after the death of my wife. Instead much of it appears to have been shoved under the carpet for fear that the management of this agency would also have to answer for their own actions of policy violations."
He sent WUSA9 this letter with more details:
I am deeply saddened to learn of the most recent allegations that have been detailed in Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley’s resignation letter from her position as the Women’s Program Officer.
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.
Not having personal knowledge of BC Stanley and her circumstances, nor access to the report that was most recently shared with the Fairfax County 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.
I firmly believe the time has come for Deputy County Executive David M. Roher 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.
The Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department has so much to offer and I hope that one day the media headlines will again praise the Department for the wonderful things it does and not its internal disparities we have all come to know.
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.
- Steven R. Mittendorff
Over the past several years, at least three women firefighters have sued Fairfax County Fire and Rescue over discrimination, sexual harassment and retaliation. On Tuesday, January 30, the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of one of the firefighters. The decision allows the hostile work environment and retaliation case brought by Maggie Hernandez to go to trial.
Sources in the courtroom tell WUSA9 that the Fourth Circuit was particularly struck by the fact that even after the harasser and the plaintiff were placed in different locations, the harasser continued to “monitor” the plaintiff, to the extent of keeping detailed “binders” full of information on the plaintiff, yet the supervisors did essentially nothing about this for months.”
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said she believes allegations in the letter are not a correct representation of all the work that is going on. She says, “we have a fantastic fire department and members have been working very hard to bring changes.” Bulova said she had not spoken with Kathleen Stanley about the allegations, but did speak with Chief Bowers, going over every one of Stanley's allegations.
The Fairfax Fire Department leadership released its findings from an internal cultural assessment on Tuesday with members of the Board of Supervisors. Lt. Katja Lansing reported on their survey of women firefighters which found 95% had no problems.