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Town mayor apologizes for sexual harassment at fire department

In support of Spaniard Bay's fire chief, approximately half of the volunteer fire squad resigned last week after the fire chief was accused of promoting a fire squad culture of bullying and sexual harassment. Meanwhile, the town mayor offered his apology to a volunteer firefighter who said she was victimized by sexual harassment and cruel treatment at the department.

The alleged victim of the abuse was the only woman in an entirely male fire department. She is also a member of the town council. The councilwoman said she was shown a pornographic video while being trained as a volunteer firefighter and she became the subject of a masturbation joke.

In a formal letter, the mayor apologized for the sexual harassment that the woman was forced to endure, saying that the city does not tolerate or condone that kind of behavior. The councilwoman called the apology a groundbreaking step forward. She said that the city has taken ownership and is offering its accountability for what happened.

Still, the woman has faced a great deal of backlash -- not only from her fellow volunteer firefighters -- but also from the local community. Hundreds came out to support the fire department and its chief last week, when approximately 20 firefighters, and the chief, resigned. Also, some have expressed frustration that volunteer firefighters from neighboring communities had to be brought in to fill the void left by the departing men.

Allegations of sexual harassment are serious. Both employees who are being subjected to this kind of abuse -- and employers who have been accused of fostering a workplace environment of harassment -- need to realize that the law does not condone such behavior and will appropriately punish companies, organizations and persons who are guilty of it.

Source: The Star, "Town council apologizes to female firefighter over sexual harassment," Jillian Kestler-D’Amours and Robin Levinson King, Jan. 26, 2016

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