If you read the newspapers across the country, you cannot help but notice that sexual harassment suits against fire departments seem to be running rampant. If you talk to male firefighters in many departments, they are quick to blame the women for creating the problems themselves.
My personal observation is that male firefighters tend to fix blame in a particular situation on a particular female based on particular facts. I have heard the rationalizations for why in “this case” “this woman” is unqualified, or “difficult to get along with”, etc. etc. etc. “Honest Chief, its not us”. However, when you look across the country at the magnitude of the problem, it becomes obvious that there is more to the story. What is causing the epidemic of sexual harassment cases in the fire service? As an attorney, I hate to speculate, but at the same time I cannot help but think of Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, for one explanation. If you haven’t read it – do it – now!!! It should be required reading for any fire officer.
Be that as it may, another in a long line of sexual harassment cases has been filed against the Westbrook, Maine Fire Department, by two female firefighters. Their suit follows several others in the past fifteen years in Westbrook. The two firefighters have been off on administrative leave that has cost Westbrook over $100,00 in overtime to fill their vacancies, thereby creating another impact to the department in these tough economic times. The case will likely take years to play out, taking a further toll on the department in terms of morale and public perception.
I am sure the male firefighters involved in the Westbrook case have their explanations and rationalizations. But I can’t help thinking there has to be a better way.