Fairfax County's fire chief responded to criticism on Thursday from his top woman leader who resigned her position this week.
Battalion chief Kathleen Stanley resigned her position as women’s program officer, accusing the leadership of tolerating and sexual-harassment, and retaliation.
Fire Chief Richard Bowers held a news conference on Thursday to emphasize that they are making progress and doing good work. Stanley, who came to watch the chief's news conference says she stands by her allegations.
"I stand behind my letter. I felt I should resign because I'm not making progress by my resignation because I'm not making the progress with the Chief that this position should make," said Stanley.
Stanley listed 20-some complaints in her letter of resignation, detailing various women firefighters' allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation. She said that, "zero tolerance is a hollow term thrown about with false commitment."
Chief Richard Bowers defended his leadership and said he addressed and corrected many of the complaints over the last year. "As far as any violations of sexual harassment, discrimination, whatever, zero tolerance means action is taken. And action has been taken with any of the referenced items in that email."
In 2016, complaints of sexual harassment and bullying surfaced after firefighter Nicole Mittendorff committed suicide. She had been bullied online. On Wednesday, her husband Steven Mittendorff called for Chief Bowers to resign.
"My heart goes out to Steve Mittendorff. He lost a wife, we lost a family member ourselves. I am here to lead this department. I have lead this department for almost five years, and over the last two years, with the unfortunate passing of Nicole, we have made some improvements under my leadership. But, more importantly, from the men and woman in the department bringing things forward and making a difference. And we still have work to do and I'm here to do that," said Bowers.
Several women firefighters stood behind the leadership in support of Bowers and department.
"I think that the public perception is incorrect, as far as I'm concerned. I, again, have never had an issue with my gender, with the other men in the department. They've all been very, very supportive," said firefighter Alisha Raekof.
Stanley says that since she came forward with her allegations she’s received a tremendous about of support but also realizes she’s made a lot of people angry. She says it’s created a lot of talk and talk is good and she’s hopeful that will lead to change.
Chief Bowers thanked Kathleen Stanley for being at the news conference. He also said that he was taking her resignation letter under consideration...not that he accepted it yet.