FAIRFAX, VA - The Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics has a long proud history of working to improve not only the lives of our members and their families but to the citizens and visitors of Fairfax County. Our professional firefighters and paramedics are on duty 24/7 to respond to any type of emergency in and around Fairfax County. This is a profession like no other and a department that we are proud to be a part of.
Unfortunately, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (FCFRD) has been the subject of recent media reports regarding allegations of harassment and bullying within the department. These allegations coincide with the one-year anniversary of the tragic suicide of one of our members and suggestions that the firehouse culture has not changed. There has been much speculation, frustration, and anger surrounding this subject and we feel we should provide the facts as we know them.
This suicide was NOT a result of any type of harassment or bullying occurring within the FCFRD workplace. This tragic suicide was a culmination of life events, personal struggles and factors outside the FCFRD that family, friends, and co-workers were untrained to recognize and unaware of at the time – quite frankly, many of our members’ and co-workers were unaware of her tumultuous personal situation.
This horrific and unnecessary death was not in vain. The FCFRD and your professional firefighters and paramedics recognized the necessity for behavioral health and suicide awareness. We have implemented an aggressive and comprehensive training program with the assistance from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF). The FCFRD coupled with your professional firefighters and paramedics continue to ensure that everyone receives access to our behavioral health program while ensuring operational peers assist with suicide awareness and behavioral health issues. In addition, we have conducted multiple mandatory classrooms and online training sessions on the topics of EEO and Sexual Harassment. All officers from the Fire Chief to Lieutenant are attending mandatory Westpoint Leadership classes.
Due to the circumstances surrounding the suicide, the Board of Supervisors led by County Executive Ed Long retained the Titan Group for an objective assessment and cultural evaluation of the FCFRD. The findings were largely based on the perceptions of department members through the use of an anonymous online survey with 62% of members participating. Titan Group conducted one on one interviews with only 65 members who were identified or identified themselves to have an issue with the department.
Currently, your professional firefighters and paramedics are working closely with the FCFRD to work through and implement the recommendations from the Titan Group. The survey clearly indicated overall dedicated and pride in the department as well as the support of its mission. The survey did identify some opportunities for improvement, so an Organizational Structure Task Force was developed. This inclusive participatory group, working with several county agencies and employee groups, is now in place to address those items.
Our Union, the Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics, represents a large multicultural, multigenerational, and extremely diverse family. The members of our union show professionalism and pride for the county and department daily by providing exceptional service. We are regarded as one of the best fire and rescue departments in the world. The men and women of the FCFRD put their lives on the line to protect and serve the citizens of Fairfax County, responding to over 100,000 incidents annually, as well as raising over half a million dollars every year for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. We provide smoke detectors and safety inspections every Saturday with our Safety in Our Community Program (SIOC).
Our members lead the backpack drive and coats for kids and underprivileged families. We are leaders in the community with our Toys for Tots drive, Santa Runs, and numerous other charitable endeavors. We care about our citizens, our businesses, and making a difference in someone’s life each and every day!
Let’s be clear – we do not condone our members breaking the rules. We do not have a systemic bullying problem. We do not have a systemic cultural issue. We do not have a systemic culture of harassment. Like any family or organization, we have our differences and disagreements. Those are isolated incidents or personalities that cast the negative light on the entire organization.
Unfortunately, like any large organization, there are also some individuals with their own agendas and personal vendettas who enjoy perpetuating differences or disagreements, but we refuse to let that small percentage of people marginalize the silent majority of our members. Those members who continue to exemplify the high standards the Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics demand. Our Union will not allow the unacceptable behavior and demeaning actions of a few to define who WE are.
The Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics cannot and will not stand for faceless attacks and accusations on any member without substance or evidence.
We expect our community leaders, county managers, and FCFRD to help to be part of making our great organization better, by not laying blame before formal investigations and inquiries have been completed. The recent and unfounded claims that a “cancer” of bullying and harassment exist within our fire department are unwarranted, unfounded and only serve to perpetuate individual agendas that undermine the progress that has been made.
Your Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics are woven into the fabric of our communities, despite what is being portrayed in the media. We remain committed to serving you, your family, and your neighbors, regardless of the emergency with continued compassion and professionalism - and we’re damn proud of that!