The Mittendorff Tragedy: Leadership and Workplace Sexualization


Nicole Mittendorff

Nicole Mittendorff

I’m skeptical that the mantle of leader somehow confers special wisdom or ethical commitment.

The implication that formal leaders can be entrusted to safeguard or inculcate ethics and morality is not born out by the facts generally nor in Fairfax, specifically.

One doesn’t become a leader and discover the importance of ethics; by then it is way too late.

If the process of identifying leaders doesn’t both discover and reward ethical behavior then expecting those leaders to act ethically is an act of delusion.

Unraveling the Mittendorff tragedy should include this issue and the role that it plays.

Personal Responsibility

Demarcating ethical conduct as the province of leaders is both a cop-out and a loophole.

Some will opt out identifying themselves as non-leaders, especially in an organization like Fairfax which has historically mandated that an officer’s badge is the only ticket to leadership legitimacy and therefore ethical conduct.

The practical indicator of ethical conduct is the exhibition of personal responsibility and there is no automatic correlation with formal or conferred leadership status.

In fact, exactly the opposite is true: organizations which confer the trappings of leadership status minus the requirement of personal responsibility never fare well.

Fairfax has done just that.

Workplace Sexualization

Fire Chief Richard Bowers

Fire Chief Richard Bowers

Any one with even the slightest institutional memory will know that Fairfax has a long history of male officers engaging in blatantly inappropriate sexual encounters, some of them on-duty.

The norm becomes the touchstone for how many people conduct themselves and the norm in Fairfax is that sexual mis-conduct, including by senior leaders, will not lead to the loss of employment, even when subordinate employees are involved.

No one should lose sight of the fact that the bullying was sexual in nature and that current leaders effectively condone workplace sexualization.

The current Fire Chief may be off the hook for the incidents occurring before his time but he is fully responsible for how he has handled those on his watch and the effect his actions have had.

It has been reported that during his tenure a senior officer was involved in just such a workplace incident and was allowed to remain employed and to even continue in a role where his direct contact with susceptible employees actually increased.

If the assertion is correct, what does that say about Chief Richard Bowers’ commitment to a safe work environment, never mind the subject of leadership ethics?

Would Bowers be so daft as to not assume that the rank and file would follow his lead where sex and work are concerned?

Did he have a clear chance to send a strong and ethical message and fail to do so?

The other day he said about the posts that, “We…are looking into the matter.”

He doesn’t have far to look as he as much as anyone else is responsible for the current climate.

The Union

John Niemiec

John Niemiec

IAFF Local 2068 is also responsible as they represent the vast majority of firefighters and paramedics.

In fact, the perpetrators of the sexual bullying are quite likely to be members.

What has president John Niemiec and his board done to prevent such incidents?

Is  labor part of the problem with a relationship with the fire chief often described as beyond cozy?


There should be no high expectation that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors will demand a full review and necessary changes.

After all, they are the crew who dithered for years over the John Geer fiasco, working tirelessly to hide the facts from the public.

If there is a legitimate investigation, by all means go after those proven to be bullying but don’t forget to have a good look at the leaders and the role they have played in creating the current atmosphere.

The right course would be for the Fairfax County Federation of Civic Associations to appoint a panel with full authority to investigate the incident, including holding public hearings,  and to issue a report to the Board of Supervisors.

The Fire and Rescue Department serves the citizens of Fairfax County; somewhere that fact has been forgotten, along with the concept of personal responsibility.






  • Spartacus says:

    But…but…they investigated themselves and determined there was no malfeasance!

  • Rob Davis says:

    I very much agree with what John Niemiec, our Union President has mention above to have Fairfax County Federation of Civic Associations to appoint a panel with full authority to investigate the incident, including holding public hearings, and to issue a report to the Board of Supervisors. in order to get the entire truth that lead up to the bulling that could have caused Nicole Mittendorff to take her own life. This tragic insistent should have never gotten this far before someone should have stepped in to help Nicole. These people that are found to be involved in any way need to be held fully accountable for everything they have done or didn’t do that could have prevented this from happening with No Exceptions and No Excuses no matter who they are or what position they hold. No one is above the law and this needs to include the work place too. It’s past time to take a closer look and make corrections so this type of tragic insistent never happens again. I truly hope this is handled in a professional way with integrity without any cover ups like I believe our Federal Government has handled the Benghazi Attacks. I believe Fairfax County Fire Department and all their personnel has always been very proud of their Fire Dept along with who they are, become and what they stand for. Lets not ever loose this by honoring Nicole by continuing to stand tall and be proud to be a part of the best job in the world by weeding out the ones that have played a part in any way responsible for Nicole’s unnecessary actions for they no longer deserve to be a member of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department.

  • Tom Mayhew says:

    Well, this kind of thing has been going on in Fairfax County in many forms. This isn’t something new. I personally know of things like this going on 25 years ago. A friend of mine got a job as a Fairfax County Firefighter. Clean, white male. He was a volunteer at the same station I was at in Prince William. We were all proud and happy for him to get his dream job. Within 2 weeks of being assigned to a station, he was given a “blanket party” one day because they found out he was volunteering outside the County. The beat him until he agreed to quit volunteering in Prince William. Guess the Union frowns on this type of behavior. He quit volunteering because he was afraid.
    I have a sister and another close female friend who both work in Fairfax County as firefighters. I demand (on their behalf) that something be done with the individuals who have made this environment in Fairfax. They should be fired and face charges.
    To the guys doing this stuff, you’re not a man. You are not a firefighter. You are a skinny piece of sh*t that needs to be castrated. Come visit with a few real men and take some lessons. You’re invited whenever you want. I’m sure there are enough of us pissed off that you have tarnished the professional trust placed in firefighters by the public, to make you understand what you did wrong.
    30 Years in the service give me the right to call you out.

  • Richee says:

    An example of this lack of leadership could be if the woman’s husband actually contacted or even paid a visit the FD HQ in Fairfax, right? So if this abuse was happening, it would go directly to Chief Bowers and let’s say, Chief Bowers did nothing about it? Would that qualify? I’m curious. As for John Niemiec, there is no greater team of bullies than Local 2068 “leadership.” Hell, for that matter, interview members of Bower’s Senior Staff privately (especially those retired since he was inserted into that position by Local 2068) I wonder if at any point he “bullied” them into loyalty, regardless of if they agreed or not with his “agendas”? Additionally, asked anyone who works at HQ if Richie Bowers doesn’t personally insert himself into EVERY decision, regardless of the level, and every promotion regardless of the qualifications or possible disqualifications. Go ahead Richie, investigate these questions too and the person who asked them!!!!! I’d love a chance to stand before the Board of Supervisors, as a lifelong county taxpayer, and bust your a55 for the things I’ve seen. Go for it!!!!! Maybe start with a request to Virginia State Police for help? I’m sure they are ready to help in any way they can. (even if it impedes a police investigation)

  • Richee says:
    “…….at this time.” “……at this time.” in other words…… “until someone finds the truth” Should have read the statement and walked, but “no common sense!” Someone should investigate who embraced “social media” in the first place and made the choice to use a medium that isn’t controlled by the fire dept. I’ll bet it happened right after April 29, 2013.

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