A man who filmed a car strik­ing Char­lottesville protesters last year sues con­spir­acy the­o­rists.

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY JUSTIN JOUVENAL

The Fair­fax County fire depart­ment has prob­lems with lead­er­ship, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the sta­tus of paramedics, but it does not face wide­spread is­sues with the treat­ment of women in its ranks, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased Tues­day.

The re­view by county of­fi­cials comes just weeks af­ter fire chief Richard R. Bow­ers Jr. an­nounced his re­tire­ment amid ac­cu­sa­tions from a top-rank­ing fe­male fire­fighter that women face a toxic at­mos­phere in the depart­ment.

Bat­tal­ion Chief Kath­leen Stan­ley’s res­ig­na­tion in Jan­uary as in­terim head of the depart­ment’s women’s pro­gram sparked the probe. Her res­ig­na­tion let­ter al­leged a long list of prob­lems, in­clud­ing the as­ser­tions that a cap­tain was re­tal­i­ated against for seek­ing an apol­ogy for sex­ual ha­rass­ment, that the depart­ment’s zero-tol­er­ance pol­icy for sex­ual ha­rass­ment is not en­forced and that some men re­ceive spe­cial priv­i­leges.

New Fair­fax County Ex­ec­u­tive Bryan J. Hill said at a Tues­day news con­fer­ence that each of Stan­ley’s al­le­ga­tions was thor­oughly ex­am­ined but that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion did not sub­stan­ti­ate many of the com­plaints and that oth­ers were han­dled pre­vi­ously. Four is­sues she raised were for­warded to an in­ter­nal au­di­tor for re­view.

“We have cul­tural is­sues. We have cul­tural con­cerns, but guess what? We deal with those,” Hill said. “We are a fire and res­cue depart­ment that is a 24-hour op­er­a­tion. Things ob­vi­ously hap­pen in a house­hold that’s 24 hours.”

The re­port said Stan­ley was wrong to say that the depart­ment’s zero-tol­er­ance sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy is hol­low and that se­nior lead­er­ship does not ac­cept there is a cul­tural prob­lem at the depart­ment. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion found Stan­ley’s com­plaint that she faced hos­til­ity for pro­mot­ing work­place di­ver­sity did not rise to the level of re­tal­i­a­tion.

More gen­er­ally, the re­port also high­lighted a sur­vey of 161 women in the depart­ment that found that 90 per­cent re­ported they had not been mis­treated be­cause of their gen­der in the past five years.

The re­port did sub­stan­ti­ate Stan­ley’s com­plaint that some fire­fight­ers were us­ing a pe­nis-shaped wa­ter bot­tle. Two were dis­ci­plined.

Hill wrote in a memo ac­com­pa­ny­ing the re­port that in­ter­views showed many fire­fight­ers were less con­cerned about the treat­ment of women than the depart­ment’s di­rec­tion and its process for com­mu­ni­cat­ing. Paramedics also said they felt over­looked.

Stan­ley did not re­turn a call seek­ing com­ment. Bat­tal­ion Chief Cheri Zosh said there are still “pock­ets of re­sis­tance” within the depart­ment that don’t want to be in­clu­sive of women, but she said she’s hope­ful a new chief and county ex­ec­u­tive could make changes.

In 2016, Zosh filed a fed­eral law­suit against the depart­ment claim­ing she was re­tal­i­ated against for try­ing to stop a cap­tain from sex­u­ally ha­rass­ing a sub­or­di­nate.

“There is still no com­mit­ment to hold­ing peo­ple ac­count­able,” Zosh said.

Other fe­male fire­fight­ers dis­agreed.

“I know for my­self that we’ve been treated ex­tremely well,” said Jen­nifer Himer. “This is my fam­ily.”

Stan­ley’s scathing let­ter is the lat­est episode for a depart­ment that has been dogged by com­plaints and law­suits al­leg­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment, re­tal­i­a­tion and the fail­ure to pro­mote women for years. The roughly 1,400-mem­ber depart­ment has 171 women.

The is­sues were high­lighted dra­mat­i­cally in 2016, when fire­fighter Ni­cole Mit­ten­dorff took her own life. Her fam­ily has not re­vealed the cause of her sui­cide, but it emerged af­ter her death that anony­mous posters had made sex­u­ally ex­plicit and misog­y­nis­tic com­ments about her on a lo­cal In­ter­net fo­rum.

The posts ap­peared to be made by peo­ple with knowl­edge of the depart­ment, but an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by of­fi­cials was not able to de­ter­mine whether fire­fight­ers were in­volved.

County of­fi­cials also com­mis­sioned an in­de­pen­dent au­dit of the depart­ment’s cul­ture that was re­leased in Fe­bru­ary 2017 and found wide­spread prob­lems. Nearly 40 per­cent of fire­fight­ers re­ported ex­pe­ri­enc­ing or wit­ness­ing ha­rass­ment, bul­ly­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion in the depart­ment. Lead­er­ship was also crit­i­cized.

Bow­ers promised to change the depart­ment’s cul­ture, in­sti­tut­ing a range of changes such as fresh train­ing, re­sources for fire­fight­ers suf­fer­ing men­tal-health crises and new poli­cies for in­ves­ti­gat­ing com­plaints of sex­ual ha­rass­ment.

But con­cerns flared anew in Jan­uary with Stan­ley’s res­ig­na­tion from the women’s pro­gram. Hill said the county hopes to hire a new fire chief by June.

“We are a fire and res­cue depart­ment that is a 24-hour op­er­a­tion. Things ob­vi­ously hap­pen in a house­hold that’s 24 hours.” Fair­fax County Ex­ec­u­tive Bryan J. Hill

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