Fairfax County leaders have recommended an independent audit of the county’s fire department after allegations and a civil rights lawsuit were filed last week by a female firefighter alleging sexual harassment and mismanagement.
Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova says a third party will be looking into the working environment.
An outside third party consultant will “assess the working environment within the Fire and Rescue Department, focusing on Equal Employment issues, workforce morale, mental health assistance, and communication issues. County staff will develop a more formal scope of work for this study. Fire and Rescue Chief Richie Bowers fully supports this initiative,” Bulova said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
In the last several weeks, Guy Morgan, who heads the department’s Professional Standards Office, was placed on administrative leave following discovery of inappropriate online posts. Additionally, Bowers launched an investigation into firehouse cyberbullying following the suicide of firefighter/paramedic Nicole Mittendorff, who worked at a station in Burke.
Meanwhile, a group of female firefighters spoke out on Wednesday saying they have had nothing but a positive atmosphere with their male colleagues.
“We’re a family, and like any family we have some black sheep,” firefighter/paramedic Alisha Reakoff told WTOP. “Those black sheep do not represent who we are as a whole. We’re disheartened about how the fire department and the personnel on the fire department are being portrayed publicly. Never once was I treated any differently because of my gender.”
Firefighter Magaly Hernandez, with the department since 2005, filed a civil rights suit on May 6, claiming years of sexual harassment, unnecessary transfers and lack of accountability of supervisors within the department.
Fairfax County says it cannot comment on Hernandez’s case.