Inquiry: D.C. fire instructors may have acted inappropriately but did not sexually harass

September 25, 2013

The District’s inspector general has concluded that two D.C. fire department instructors displayed behavior that was “potentially inappropriate” but that they did not sexually harass female cadets this year at the training academy.

One of the instructors was suspended for nearly three weeks without pay. D.C. police took a report of the incident, but criminal charges were never filed. The instructors were removed from the academy when the allegations were made earlier this year; it is unclear what position they currently hold.

The investigation was conducted by the fire department’s Equal Employment Opportunity office under the orders of D.C. Inspector General Charles J. Willoughby. A spokeswoman said that no report was written, though a “letter of closure” was sent to D.C. Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who chairs the public safety committee.

A spokesman for the D.C. fire department declined to comment on the findings. Ed Smith, the president of the firefighters union, said that “the academy should be a safe learning environment, and we’re glad to see closure.”

The letter to Wells said investigators interviewed all members of the recruits’ class — 10 female cadets and 22 male cadets. Six female cadets told investigators they never witnessed or heard of any sexual harassment.

The other four, according to the inspector general, “described incidents . . . which made them feel uncomfortable.” One said an instructor chest-bumped her before she slid down the fire pole and touched her on her leg, close to her buttocks. Another cadet said an instructor stroked her hair and neck.

The instructor who was suspended said he briefly touched a recruit’s hair because it was covering her face and he wanted to know if it was a weave. The same instructor also acknowledged that he chest-bumped a female recruit but that he was “simply excited that the cadet overcame her fear concerning the task and the contact was not intended as sexual or inappropriate.”

The inspector general said there was lack of sufficient evidence to conclude that the cadets had been sexually harassed and that the incidents they described appear to have been isolated. The inspector general wrote that he is satisfied with the action taken by fire officials and “considers this matter closed,” adding that it does not “warrant further action at this time.”

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