Fairfax, VA – A Fairfax County firefighter has been demoted after he was accused of sticking his fingers up the rear end of a fire department recruit in a bar off duty.
The incident occurred after work hours in December of 2017 at a bar where a fundraiser was being held, WUSA reported.
The victim told two girlfriends immediately afterwards, but says she did not report it to officials.
But in September of 2018, she told another fire captain in the department what had happened, then that captain reported the incident, kicking off an investigation, according to WUSA.
The victim, who is now employed by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue, told investigators that a fire captain had walked up behind her, inserted his fingers in her rear end, and said “that’s what you call a ‘French Press.’”
The allegations were investigated by the Fairfax County Office Human Rights and Equity Programs (OHREP) in December of 2018 and that office determined there was enough evidence to find the complaint credible, WUSA reported.
OHREP issued a “cause finding,” which meant they found enough probable cause to believe the complaint.
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Chief John Butler moved swiftly once the “cause finding” was determined, according to WUSA.
Fire Chief Butler demoted the accused fire captain by two ranks, making him a technician and resulting in a serious drop in his salary.
But not everybody was pleased with the discipline that was meted out in this case.
A female Fairfax County firefighter told WUSA that if the county really has “a zero tolerance” policy, the fire captain named in the complaint should have been fired.
The firefighter, who asked that her name be withheld for fear of retribution from fire department officials, said that a “cause finding” should result in termination, not demotion.
Fairfax County Executive Bryon Hill has said in the past that his county would not “tolerate any form of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or hostile work environment.”
But the county executive does not determine punishment. That’s the responsibility of the fire chief, WUSA reported.
The accused former fire captain, whose name has not been released since no criminal charges were filed against him, said that his union is working to get his job back.
Fairfax County Firefighters and Paramedics Association President Ron Kuley told WUSA he could not discuss the specific case.
“Zero tolerance means action is going to be taken and discipline is going to be delivered,” Kuley said. “Whatever that type of action or discipline is.”
“Fire Chief John Butler is doing a great job in making sure that an issue as it relates to sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying is being addressed,” the union president said. “And he’s taken action. Now, we may not always agree on type of action, but there’s processes in place and we’re consistently going through and following those processes and policies.”
He said the union was there to do more than defend members accused of wrongdoing.
“We are there to support anybody that comes forward to us. And if they feel like they’re the victim, or they feel like they’re the ones that need to make a complaint, then we will help them and guide them through the process and we’ve done that many, many times,” Kuley said.
But not everybody thinks the union has represented its entire membership.
Two of the highest ranking women in the fire department have named the union in their lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), WUSA reported.
Fairfax County Fire and Rescue has been under a cloud since the suicide of firefighter Nicole Mittendorff in April of 2016.
Mittendorff was bullied and sexually harassed by several of her co-workers on an online community forum, WUSA reported.
Her death revealed there were numerous sexual harassment complaints and lawsuits against officials and firefighters in the department, and ultimately resulted in the termination of the Fire Chief Richard Bowers, according to WUSA.