Congress holds another hearing about sexual harassment of firefighters

Congressional and Inspector General investigations into allegations of sexual harassment of federal firefighters are becoming frequent. After two hearings before the Full House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform about sexual misconduct in the National Park Service, a number of employees of the U.S. Forest Service came forward with similar stories.

On December 1 the committee held another hearing “to address misconduct, sexual harassment, and disparate treatment of women within the U.S. Forest Service”, and, “to examine the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s management of its Office of Civil Rights and handling of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaints.”

One of the witnesses to testify was Denice Rice, a Fire Prevention Technician on the Eldorado National Forest at El Dorado, California.

She told a horrifying story of being harassed for years by her supervisor and then being victimized again with reprisals. Here are some excerpts from her written testimony:

…From 2009 through 2011 my second line supervisor repeatedly sexually harassed me and he assaulted me in 2011. I filed a complaint and the instant I filed everything changed. Management removed all of my supervisory responsibilities, moved me from my location, and isolated me. This adverse action resulted in a prohibited personnel practice when they removed my supervisory responsibilities that were in my position description.

[—]

Numerous investigations were held. There was an OIG investigation, with interviews from multiple investigators and I had to relive the situation over and over. One of the investigators provided specific details to my peers on what the second line supervisor did to me, including sexual assault. I lost my reputation and my dignity when they made the situation public. My family life was affected. My husband felt helpless because he wasn’t allowed to protect me. My life was a living hell. I was diagnosed with PTSD.

[—]

After the OIG investigation and the Rangers read everything in the report, again violating my confidentiality, the decision was made to terminate him. But before they gave him the proposed removal letter, the Forest Supervisor took him out for coffee to give him advance notice that he was going to be fired. They let him quickly retire with no mark on his record whatsoever.

After his retirement he applied for and was hired on a California Incident Management Team. This put me in a situation where we could both be assigned to the same fire incident. It also allowed him to continue working with women.

[—]

In 2016 the fire organization brought this predator back to the Eldorado forest specifically to give a motivational speech to the Hotshots. So they are still supporting him while I have continued to be harassed by the same individuals that protected him before he left. I have had to file additional reprisal complaints.

The video of the hearing is below. It starts at about 8:30.

Articles on Wildfire Today tagged “sexual harassment”.

National Park Service whistleblowers testify to Congress about sexual harassment

(UPDATE at 5:20 p.m. MDT September 29, 2016)

At about 7 p.m. on September 28 Don Neubacher, the Superintendent at Yosemite National Park in California, sent an email message to all employees in the park announcing his retirement. He explained that in a discussion with the Regional Director “it was determined that new leadership was needed” in the park. He said he was offered a position in Denver serving as a “Senior Advisor to Michael Reynolds, Deputy Director for the National Park Service”, but that since his home was in California he opted to retire. He will be on leave until the retirement is effective on November 1, 2016.

During the September 22 Congressional hearing described below it was revealed that 20 employees in Yosemite described the park as a hostile work environment as a result of the behavior and conduct of the park Superintendent.

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(Originally published at 5:24 p.m. MDT, September 22, 2016)

Thursday’s hearing before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was at times captivating. During the 2 hours and 17 minute hearing two current National Park Service employees testified as “whistleblowers”, possibly putting their careers in jeopardy and risking retaliation as they described allegations of sexual harassment and a lack of accountability.

The statements and questions from the committee members exhibited very little partisanship. Many of them seemed genuinely shocked and deeply troubled at the numerous examples of sexual harassment that came to light during the session. They frequently thanked the two NPS employees for coming forward and vowed that the committee would be watching closely for any retribution against the whistleblowers.

Four National Park Service units were discussed in regards to sexual harassment incidents: Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Yosemite National Park, and Cape Canaveral National Seashore.

Kelly Martin, Yosemite National Park’s Chief of Fire and Aviation Management, has had a 32-year career with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Park Service. For the last 10 years she has served as the Chief of Fire and Aviation Management in the park. She described “..a hostile work environment in Yosemite where dozens of individuals have come forward with personal statements of demoralizing behavior to include acts of bullying, gender bias, and favoritism.”

Ms. Martin was asked to describe three of her experiences with sexual harassment that occurred before she worked at Yosemite.

I was a victim of a peeping tom at the Grand Canyon in 1987. It was a very difficult and painful experience for me. I reported it to two supervisors immediately that first day that I was able to positively identify a park ranger in uniform that was peering through my bathroom window. I had reported it to two supervisors. Visibly shaken, it was very, very difficult for me to do.

She said she was presented with options: do nothing, file a criminal complaint, file an Equal Employment Opportunity complaint, or agree to a meeting with the two supervisors and the Park Ranger. She chose the meeting. She said she didn’t want to be labeled a troublemaker. The Park Ranger continued his career and recently retired as a Deputy Superintendent at a park.

Representative Jason Chaffetx, Chair of the committee, added that the park ranger was arrested in 2000 for peeping at naked women at a YMCA. In 2001 he was investigated for suspicious behavior or voyeurism behavior near a building. He recently retired as a Deputy Park Superintendent.

In another incident at Grand Canyon National Park Ms. Martin said another employee took photos of her and put them above the visor in his vehicle and told others about the photo. In her office at the Grand Canyon he tried to kiss her, but she pushed him away. Later he applied for the job of Chief of Fire and Aviation at the Grand Canyon. She spoke to the Deputy Superintendent about this incident and that person was not selected for the job.

In a third situation that occurred at a meeting while working in fire management for the USFS, one of her supervisors ran his fingers through her hair. She talked to her immediate supervisor about it, but did not pursue it further, in order to preserve her career. When she reported it to upper management, she was told “It’s his word against yours”. This led her to believe, she said, “There was a culture of tolerance and acceptance of this kind of behavior in her work force… I honestly felt the preservation of my career and the status with my peers was more important than filing a complaint.”

Referring to an investigation of sexual harassment at Yosemite, Chairman Chaffetz said: “It is our understanding that of the 21 people the investigators interviewed, every single one of them, with one exception, described Yosemite as a hostile work environment as a result of the behavior and conduct of the park Superintendent.”

The person that did not agree with that assessment, Chairman Chaffetz said, was the Superintendent.

Continue reading “National Park Service whistleblowers testify to Congress about sexual harassment”

On International Women’s Day: firefighters in Australia

On International Women’s Day, March 8, take a look at this video from down under that highlights the role of women, especially firefighters, in Parks Victoria.

Female inmate injured while fighting fire near Malibu

The inmate’s condition was upgraded from critical to serious.

A female inmate was seriously injured Thursday morning while fighting a wildfire near Malibu in southern California. Reportedly she was struck by a rolling rock and was hoisted into a helicopter and transported to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where her condition was later upgraded from critical to serious.

Injured inmate hoist helicopter
An inmate firefighter was airlifted after being injured in Malibu on Feb. 25, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

The 22-year-old inmate was a member of Fire Camp 13, an all-female facility.

The fire was reported around 3 a.m. in steep terrain about two miles north of the Pacific Coast Highway.

A total of 63 inmates divided into five work crews were battling the fire, according to Bill Sessa, a spokesperson for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

From the LA Times:

Of the roughly 4,000 inmates housed in 44 conservation camps across the state, only a couple hundred are women.

The female inmate who was injured Thursday had come from the LA County jail system, and had been with the Malibu conservation camp since August, Sessa said.

The CDCR likes to say that only non-violent prisoners are allowed to work on inmate fire crews, but as was discovered last year, the agency’s definition of “violent” is different from the public’s perception.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Tom.

War time lady loggers

I wonder how many people who today cut down trees with a chain saw could do what these women did?

The first Indigenous female firefighting crew in South Australia

Australia’s ABCNews produced a radio program about the first Indigenous female firefighting crew in South Australia. You can listen to it HERE; below is an excerpt from the transcript.

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“MARK COLVIN: A group of women in a remote Aboriginal community in South Australia’s APY Lands have formed the state’s first Indigenous female fire-fighting team.

For cultural reasons women in Mimili can’t join the Country Fire Service unit in the town.

But with the men often out of community on cultural business and other help so far away the women decided to train up so they could protect themselves and their land.

One of the new fire-fighters says she hopes other Indigenous women follow their lead.

Natalie Whiting reports.

NATALIE WHITING: About five hours from Uluru in the top corner of South Australia is Mimili.

A group of women there have been spending today putting out fires.

TANIA POMPEY: We’re going out just doing some patch-burning and I think we’re doing burning a car, that’s one of our old wrecks in our rubbish dump here, just keeping up our training skills that we learnt.

NATALIE WHITING: Tania Pompey is one Mimili’s new fire-fighters.

She and eight other women have undergone training with the Country Fire Service.

TANIA POMPEY: We’ve got a male CFS team and so I was just seeing how they do their training and I thought oh well, if the men go away or anything like that for a bit of trips and things, I just decided we can’t go after them, us women have to stick up for ourselves and just look after the family.

NATALIE WHITING: Absolutely, and I guess with cultural business, men’s business, there are times when most of the men aren’t in communities, is that the case?

TANIA POMPEY: Yes, and I saw how well the men team were working together, and I went to one of the training courses and I just though oh well, let’s do it.

NATALIE WHITING: Now, I understand that you guys are actually going to be the first Indigenous female fire-fighting team.

How did you feel when you heard that?

TANIA POMPEY: Totally, totally overwhelmed.

We didn’t, we just thought oh, just a bunch of ladies doing it and then one of my friends said “we haven’t heard anything like this from other people before”, and so we felt really privileged…”