Fairfax County’s next fire chief will be a veteran firefighter who has led Howard County’s fire department for the past four years and served two combat tours as a Marine, the Board of Supervisors has announced.
John S. Butler is set to take over the 1,400-strong department in September, replacing Richard Bowers, who retired in April. Butler began his career with the Howard fire department in 1993 as a paramedic, moving up the ranks until he was appointed chief in 2014.
“We had a number of strong candidates, however, Chief Butler demonstrated the leadership, vision and communications skills that will move our excellent Fire and Rescue Department forward,” said County Executive Bryan Hill. “His proven experience and successful leadership at the helm of a large department will continue to strengthen our culture and contribute to a positive future for the department.”
Butler joins the department during a period of turmoil. Bowers announced he was stepping down shortly after Fairfax County officials said they would investigate complaints from high-ranking women in the department that the brass was not doing enough to curb sexual harassment and discrimination in the ranks.
In May, the American Civil Liberties Union announced it had filed an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint on behalf of two female firefighters, who said they were retaliated against for reporting the problems.
The department has been dogged by lawsuits and complaints alleging discrimination against women and minorities for years. The issues came to a head in 2015, after female firefighter Nicole Mittendorff committed suicide. Sexist and sexually explicit remarks about her had been posted on a local Internet forum.
Fairfax County officials touted efforts by Butler, who is African American, to bring diversity and be inclusive of women as Howard’s fire chief. They said he hired the most diverse trainee class in the department’s history and helped establish a branch of an organization that helps women in firefighting.
Butler will receive an annual salary of nearly $202,000.