Mediator finds women fire fighters in Richmond endured harassment at work

October 31, 2006
Written by Fire Fighting in Canada
November 2006 - RICHMOND, B.C. (CP) – Women fire fighters in Richmond, B.C., have endured years of harassment at work, veteran mediator Vince Ready says in a report released Sept. 22.
November 2006 - RICHMOND, B.C. (CP) – Women fire fighters in Richmond, B.C., have endured years of harassment at work, veteran mediator Vince Ready says in a report released Sept. 22.

“I have observed a culture amongst members of the RFRD (Richmond Fire Rescue Department) characterized by juvenile and hostile behaviour towards firefighters generally and women in the RFRD specifically which I find has contributed to the barriers to women's potential within the RFRD,” he said.

The women have faced conduct that has left some of them feeling unwelcome, unsafe and at times unable to go to work, he said.

“In many instances this conduct was condoned by the employer or addressed in a half-hearted fashion.”

In his report on a grievance filed by the fire fighters union in May 2005, Ready recommended a number of changes be made to their work environment.

He said women haven't had separate washrooms, shower or change facilities at many fire halls and that has to change.

“Many inappropriate interactions which have fuelled sexualized comments might have been avoided through separate facilities,” Ready said.

“Unfortunately, by failing to act to ensure that the physical space for women adequately accommodated their needs, this aspect of the problem has taken on somewhat mythical proportions and, unsurprisingly, generated a backlash itself.”

Ready said both the union and the city of Richmond have agreed to go along with his recommendations.

Ted Townsend, spokesman for Richmond, said the city will “make changes to increase gender diversity and overall diversity within the fire department.

“(Vince Ready's) report enhances some of the changes already underway.”

Townsend said there are two women fire fighters in Richmond. One works in public education and the other works in fire prevention.

One of the fire halls is being renovated to include two offices for them, he said.

The department once employed seven women, all brought into the force when it amalgamated in 1995 with the force at the Vancouver airport. Prior to 1995, Richmond did not have a female fire fighter.

Ready said significant training is needed to bring about the necessary changes in the workplace.

“The employer must increase its commitment to ongoing anti-harassment and equality training,” he said.

Former fire fighter Jeanette Moznik filed a lawsuit last August saying the city fostered a culture of sexual discrimination and harassment against female fire fighters by failing to take action.

She said human feces were put into her boots, her helmet was smashed, she found a condom filled with an unidentified liquid in her locker and an obscenity was printed on the front of her locker.

A report by lawyer Susan Paish released in June said the Richmond fire department needs to overhaul its intolerant culture to be more open to women and visible minorities.

The report was ordered by Richmond city council after all four female firefighters quit, citing complaints of harassment and discrimination.

Paish said “the culture must change to be more open to and understanding of demographic diversity.”

The report recommended the women return to work as soon as possible and be reintegrated on to fire crews and that the department make the workplace safe for women and attract more female employees, especially fire fighters, as well as non-Caucasians.

The four women refused to participate in the review.

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