The Montgomery County Council president is asking for an accounting of the Fire and Rescue Service’s training practices, days after the fire chief said he had received complaints about employees taunting custodians with “vulgar inappropriate sexual comments” and negative comments about diversity.
In an interview, Fire Chief Scott Goldstein said he did not know how frequently the alleged behavior had occurred or how many of the department’s approximately 2,700 employees and volunteers it involved. Six of the county’s 37 fire stations use contract custodial services provided by two companies, LT Services of Falls Church, Va., and Certified Building Services of Derwood, Md., according to the county, but it was not clear whether one or both companies made the complaints.
Custodial staff representatives came to the department Feb. 1 to discuss the behavior but declined to provide specifics or identify perpetrators, Goldstein said. The companies did not immediately respond to requests for comment Thursday.
In a letter to Goldstein, Council President Hans Riemer (D) requested a detailed accounting of the complaints, what kind of diversity training is in place for staffers and demographic information for the agency.
Goldstein said many employees and volunteers cycle through the six stations that use outside custodial workers, which is why he emailed the entire department about the allegations. The six stations are in Silver Spring, Glenmont, Kingsview, Travilah, Milestone and Clarksburg, county officials said.
The chief’s Feb. 9 email says the complaints included “flirtatious comments,” “unprofessional conversations” and “body language that suggest exclusion,” in addition to “negative comments regarding diverse neighboring communities” and “comments/personal opinions regarding DACA” — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy that granted legal protection to young, undocumented immigrants.
“All of the interactions above are un-acceptable,” Goldstein wrote.
He said his department has scheduled a meeting with the companies and the Department of General Services over the allegations, and he added that the department has held harassment and discrimination training over the past two years.
Riemer called the allegations “very disappointing.”
“At the same time, there’s not a lot of information,” he said. “The thrust of the letter is, let’s get some information in hand and look at what’s going on.”
Last week, officials in neighboring Fairfax County announced an investigation of claims by some female members of that county’s fire department that little has been done to stop sexual harassment there.