Fairfax County Executive Ed Long has presented an organizational assessment of the county’s Fire and Rescue Department, produced by the Titan Group, a division of Gallagher Benefit Services Inc., to the Board of Supervisors.
The report covered discrimination, harassment, retaliation and bullying, as well as equal employment issues, workforce morale, internal communications, leadership, and the sufficiency and effectiveness of existing Fire Department and county complaint and grievance procedures.
“I am very proud of our Fire and Rescue Department. These individuals risk their lives for our safety every day,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova. “The county and Fire Chief Richard Bowers requested this study to help us identify those areas needing improvement. The findings in this report have brought some important issues to our attention that must be addressed. It is critical that every member of the Fire and Rescue Department is treated with dignity and respect.”
The cultural assessment report was based on the perceptions of department members who participated and it identified five core themes of the department’s culture based on the most prevalent responses and comments from participants.
- Dedication – Noted to be high across the department. A low attrition rate was noted with a high number of respondents acknowledging job security.
- Leadership – Generally positive comments were given about station level commanders and civilian supervisors, but concerns were raised about senior management including a lack of trust and accountability, as well as a fear of retaliation.
- Bullying/Harassment/Discrimination – There is a perception that these issues do exist in some areas of the department and need to be proactively addressed to change the current culture.
- Conflict Management – A lack of trust in senior management and a lack of understanding of the department and county grievance process, and perception that discipline is unfair and not applied consistently.
- Hiring/Promotions – Members expressed concerns that the department hires applicants who do not have the necessary experience, motivation and skills, and that competitive selection processes for staff positions and promotions are perceived as unfair and not equitable.
These themes were identified from the responses to an online survey of uniformed, volunteer and civilian members of the department. This survey was distributed to department members by email, kept open for three weeks, and had a 62 percent response rate. In addition, 65 one-on-one interviews were conducted and 33 members participated in focus groups. Personnel were selected randomly for the interviews and focus groups. Additional one-on-one interviews were conducted with personnel who specifically requested to be interviewed. Also, 16 members of the department who had previously filed a grievance or complaint were asked to be interviewed, and eight agreed to participate.
In addition to identifying these core theme areas, the report also included recommendations for future action. The county executive has established an Executive Review Committee, which will oversee the implementation of changes and improvements made in response to the report.
“It is clear from the results of the cultural assessment of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department that we have some challenges ahead. I take these results very seriously. Under my leadership, and with the support of my senior management team and county leadership, we have the opportunity to strengthen the department as we move forward. The issues will not be solved overnight and with any cultural shift, it will take time and hard work to bring about the necessary transformation, which I am committed to doing,” said Fire Chief Richard Bowers.
“My responsibilities will be to review the assessment in detail, form work groups to include representatives from various stakeholders, including employee groups, diverse department members, and partners such as the Department of Human Resources and the Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs, and develop an action plan for the Executive Review Committee by May 1, 2017.”