Fairfax Co. fire Chief responds to allegations in heated resignation letter from Battalion Chief

FAIRFAX CO., Va. - Chief Richard Bowers held a press conference on Thursday to address recent allegations brought up in a resignation letter from a Battalion Chief.

Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley says she sent an e-mail earlier this week, requesting approval to step down as Women's Program Officer, a role that was created after firefighter Nicole Mittendorff committed suicide.

The letter, obtained by DCW50, outlines a number of situations that concerned Stanley, as well as some disturbing claims. 

At one point, she says, "Fairfax County Fire and Rescue tolerates, and often defends, sexual harassment, retaliation and a hostile work environment."

On Thursday, Chief Bowers says many of the situations brought up in the e-mail were investigated and handled.

"However, I must tell you, that the allegations that were put forth are misleading," he said.

On Tuesday, the fire department provided a "climate assessment" update to the Board of Supervisors Public Safety Committee. A report by an independent firm in 2016 outlined some issues, including bullying, harassment, and discrimination.

A women's workgroup initiative, who surveyed more than 150 women staff, said 95% of firefighters reported being satisfied with the department’s culture.

Alisha Reakoff, a technician, reiterated those feelings on Thursday.

"I again have never had an issue with my gender, with the other men in this department, they’ve all been very, very supportive."

Battalion Chief Stanley, speaking publicly for the first time on Thursday, said the issues lie within a small percentage of the department.

"I agree with a lot of what the Fire Chief said, we have a great department, it’s only about five percent that we have a problem with and that 5 percent just needs to be dealt with."

Stanley said she was not asking to resign from the fire department, but just from the Women's Program Officer Role.

Chief Bowers said he has not accepted her resignation yet.

Mittendorff's husband, Steven, has spoken out since seeing the letter, calling on Chief Bowers to resign.

He provided DCW50 with a statement:

"I am deeply saddened to learn of the most recent allegations that have been detailed in Battalion Chief Kathleen Stanley’s resignation letter from her position as the Women’s Program Officer.

Shortly after the suicide of my wife Nicole,  a promise was made to me by the Department that every effort to educate and re-shape the culture of this male dominated profession would be met; ultimately, to provide every female or male a safe place to work free of harassment by others and one that is open to progressive change.

Not having personal knowledge of BC Stanley and her circumstances, nor access to the report that was most recently shared with the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, I cannot comment on those items specifically; however, it is apparent that the Department has a lot more work to accomplish on this topic and it will be done under the microscope of public opinion.

I firmly believe the time has come for Deputy County Executive David M. Roher and the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to re-evaluate the executive leadership of the Department and to ask for the immediate resignation of Chief Richard Bowers and his Assistant Chiefs by seeking new leadership for this plagued Department.

The Fairfax County Fire & Rescue Department has so much to offer and I hope that one day the media headlines will again praise the Department for the wonderful things it does and not its internal disparities we have all come to know.

I continue to have faith, high praise, and support for the women and men of this agency but I do believe it is time for a significant leadership change."

Chief Bowers said on Thursday that he does not plan to step down, but does home to speak with Steven in the near future about his concerns.