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Did ‘Fairfax Undergound’ Site Play Part in Firefighter Suicide?

by Karen Goff — April 29, 2016 at 2:00 pm 9 Comments

Nicole Mittendorff/family photoFairfax County Fire and Rescue officials are investigating whether comments on the Fairfax Underground forum may have led to the suicide of Firefighter-Paramedic Nicole Mittendorff.

In a news conference yesterday, Chief Richard Bowers said the department’s preliminary investigation has determined that there was no departmental knowledge of any bullying or harassment regarding Mittendorff prior to her disappearance.

Mittendorf, 31, of Woodbridge, was missing for about a week before her body (and a suicide note) were located in Shenandoah National Park.

It has been reported that Mittendorff had been cyberbullied — possibly by fellow firefighters — on that site.

Bowers said an investigation through the county’s Department of Information and Technology shows a county computer was not used to access Fairfax Underground, which is an unmoderated.

Said Bowers: “The web forum is independently maintained and not associated with Fairfax County government. At this time, the department does not know if the posts were authored by any county or Fire and Rescue Department employee. Investigators are actively continuing with the investigation and using every resource available.”

Bowers said Fairfax County Fire and Rescue maintains a “zero tolerance'” policy in regards to bullying and harassment of any kind.

“I will hold any county employee or volunteer accountable for these hostile Fairfax Underground postings, which could include termination,” he said.

The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department will establish a task force with representatives from the IAFF Local 2068, Female Firefighters of Fairfax County, and other employee groups to address any issues that may exist within the department related to discrimination, harassment, and bullying in the workplace, said Bowers.

Changes will include implementing additional “zero tolerance” harassment training. Bowers will also implement a comprehensive suicide education and prevention program throughout the department.

The program will include extensive education and training in suicide prevention and mental illness. A continued emphasis will remain on behavioral health education and training with guidance from the International Association of Firefighters, International Association of Fire Chiefs. This includes increased training in the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation Stress First Aid Course, which is designed to reduce the risk of stress reactions in fire and rescue personnel.

Photo: Nicole Mitttendorff/family photo

  • Mike M

    Fairfax Underground is nasty from the word go. This would not be the first suicide to which they contributed. I am surprised no one behind it has been brought to justice one way or another.

    As for the Fire Department, I have seen first hand some significant dysfunctional old school male swagger among the leadership. There is also a culture of sucking up. So, this wouldn’t surprise me. I also believe the are enough adults there that any problems will be straightened out for real.

  • susie

    so sad

  • PJ
    • Mike M

      Uglier the more you pull the thread.

  • Tom

    I don’t know the whole story behind this but I’m a bit confused over how an adult can be “cyberbullied.” Kids I can understand, they don’t have the maturity to handle such things but going online is voluntary, nobody is forcing you to visit a site. As soon as you spot trouble, leave and never return.

    Or is this a case of her being cyberbullied behind the scenes without her ever actually visiting the site?

    • Evey Hammond

      Sadly, yes adults can be bullied. It’s not as simple as not visiting the site anymore. Her problem was that she knew that her coworkers were visiting it, and she had to deal with coworkers who were looking down on her. The attitudes expressed on the site would have bled through to her workplace, and it would not have been as easy for her to quit her job as to quit the site. And, she could have been cyberbullied behind her back.

      • susie

        Which would amount to workplace bullying. If you have ever experienced it, you will know how devastating it can be. And simply leaving the job doesn’t erase the pain.

    • LakeNewportLady

      Cyber bullying happens to adults every day. People can say the most disgusting, hateful things they would never have the guts to say to someone’s face. If someone endures that on a consistent basis I’m sure it wears you down.

      https://youtu.be/9tU-D-m2JY8

    • John Higgins

      Part of the problem is semantic. “Bullying” is a popular word these days, typically applied with respect to schools and minors. That’s not really what goes on in these blogs. In the world of public safety brotherhoods, they call it “slut shaming”. That term alone conveys the impact such gossip (especially when untrue) can have on its target. As expressed elsewhere in these comments, the fact that your colleagues are thinking of or talking about you this way can be devastating.

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