Montgomery County Council President Hans Riemer is seeking details from the chief of the county’s Fire & Rescue Service after the chief sent a memo to the department’s employees regarding “unacceptable” interactions with custodial staff.
Scott Goldstein’s memo reports employees made flirtatious and “vulgar inappropriate sexual comments,” engaged in unprofessional conversations, and stated personal opinions about immigration policies to staff, according to a copy of the memo.
NBC4 first reported about Goldstein’s message to the department. The memo, which was provided Wednesday to Bethesda Beat by the county, said the interactions happened at multiple fire department “worksites” and were not limited to a single station or shift.
“All of the interactions above are un-acceptable,” Goldstein wrote. “While I know many [fire and rescue employees] at these county stations welcome and support the custodial staff, the inappropriate actions of a few destroy the work of many.”
The memo did not detail any specific incidents, but Riemer’s letter to Goldstein, dated Wednesday, seeks additional information about the behavior.
“The Council is requesting that you provide a written response outlining the nature and timing of the complaints, when these complaints came to the department’s attention, how long this behavior has been occurring, the mechanisms in place for receiving complaints, and actions you have taken as a result of this information,” the letter says.
It also asks Goldstein for more information about the department’s training policies surrounding sexual harassment and “cultural proficiency” as well as the demographic breakdown of the department’s staff.
Goldstein previously told NBC4 that the individuals who brought the issue to his attention did not want to move forward with filing a formal complaint.
Riemer said the council is requesting more information and then will determine what action to take next.
“We want to follow through on the inquiry into these complaints and just be crystal clear about what we do and don’t accept in the workplace in Montgomery County,” Riemer said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s safe to say these are complaints that need to be taken seriously.”
Riemer wrote in his letter the council “appreciates” Goldstein’s decision to send the department-wide memo alerting employees about the inappropriate behavior.
County spokesman Patrick Lacefield said Wednesday the fire department will provide information to the council about its policies.
“There’s zero tolerance for this kind of stuff,” Lacefield said. He added that because the county hasn’t received a formal complaint, no one stands accused of any particular behavior.
The fire department employs about 1,200 people, according to a demographic breakdown presented to the council’s Public Safety Committee in June. About 94 percent are men and 6 percent are women. A large majority—76 percent—are white, about 10 percent are black, 7 percent are Hispanic or Latino and about 2 percent are Asian, according to the statistics.
The fire department was previously involved in a cultural incident in August that gained media attention after a black firefighter was accused of lashing out at three co-workers about another firefighter who had a Confederate flag license plate on his truck at a Bethesda fire station. The co-workers and the firefighter who owned the truck attempted to get peace orders against their black colleague, but a judge denied the peace orders.