I-Team investigation: D.C. firefighter speaks out about sexual harassment

An active duty female D.C. firefighter is breaking her silence to speak up for young female cadets who allege sexual harassment at the DC Fire and EMS Training Academy.

Fearing retaliation, the firefighter requested anonymity. She’s being referred to as “Susan” in this story.

She says when she joined a recruit class a few years ago, it came with a warning from a female academy employee about some of the male instructors.

"She just said, 'be careful, because a lot of them, they don't know their boundaries,” she says.

Almost immediately, Susan says, the sexual harassment began. One instructor commented, “guess who wore the wrong bra today,” she says.

After a tough day of training, Susan says that same instructor got her alone. She says his hand moved from her shoulder slowly down to the top of her backside.

"And then as the hand like went lower to like you know here, I was just like, 'Um, yeah please don't ever touch me. Like, that's hugely inappropriate,’” she says.

Fearing for her job, Susan kept quiet until she saw ABC7's recent investigation centering on two young female cadets, fresh out of high school, who accused two instructors of sexual harassment. She says those cadets came to her for advice and told her what the instructors said.

"You know, they're babies. And, so for them to speak to them like that and you know, just make any sort of sexual comments toward them is just disgusting,” she says.

The fire department has reassigned the two instructors to positions outside of the academy and launched an internal investigation.

But when ABC7 approached D.C. Fire Chief Kenneth Ellerbe in February, he insisted the alleged harassment was "not" sexual in nature.

“What we believe happened was more some inappropriate language and touching, not of a sexual nature, but the matter made the young ladies uncomfortable,” Ellerbe says.

But one male firefighter says he also felt compelled to speak out, saying he's aware of cases in which superiors intimidated female firefighters into not filing complaints.

"And I know of two issues uh, first hand, um where issues of sexual harassment or harassment towards women have been basically brushed under the table,” said the male firefighter who declined to be identified.

A fire department spokesperson declined comment about the status of the latest alleged harassment investigation. He did say the department provided additional training for staff to address concerns regarding inappropriate conduct toward colleagues. And a female instructor has been placed at the academy to train cadets as well.

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