Fairfax County Fire Chief Richard Bowers on April 29 called out the web forum where users cyber-bullied firefighter Nicole Mittendorff, who committed suicide.
Mittendorff’s remains were found in the Shenandoah National Park after several days of searching. She had called in sick to work on April 13 before disappearing, the same day her family last heard from her through text message. Medical examiners concluded Mittendorff, 31, took her own life.
In a web forum not associated with the county’s government, Fairfax Underground, the firefighter is insulted and called “ugly,” as well as other sexual derogatory words, even after her death. Anonymous users in the forum also referenced posts from last December that talked badly about the 31-year-old.
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department said it has initiated an internal administrative investigation into the posts on the local web forum regarding Mittendorff.
Officials said in a statement that it is not yet known if the comments were posted by any county or Fire and Rescue Department employees.
“I have initiated a very aggressive internal investigation into who made the lewd, horrible comments on the Fairfax Underground blog,” Bowers said at a press conference.
He also blasted the web forum.
“I am directly appealing to the hosting company, you know who you are, the Fairfax Underground, to immediately remove the lewd posts and seize the operation of the blog,” Bowers said. “We need to clean up this blog, and people need to act right.”
In regards to the fire department, Bowers said the “Fairfax County Fire and Rescue maintains a ‘zero tolerance’ policy in regards to bullying and harassment of any kind.”
“I will hold any county employee or volunteer accountable for these hostile Fairfax Underground postings, which could include termination,” he added.
The fire department has taken certain measures after the death of Mittendorff.
It announced in a statement that it will establish a task force with the IAFF Local 2068, Female Firefighters of Fairfax County, and other work groups to address discrimination, harassment, and bullying in the workplace. The move will include implementing additional “zero tolerance” harassment training.
Bowers will also launch a suicide education and prevention program throughout the department as well as education on mental illness.