Cincinnati Fire Chief Michael Washington Fired for Workplace Culture That City Manager Calls 'Unwelcome to Women'

A third-party organization tasked with gender-based training at the fire department said Washington rushed and misrepresented the training to staff.

click to enlarge Multiple women working for CFD voiced concerns during Michael Washington’s tenure as fire chief, saying the workplace culture allowed women to be disrespected and treated unfairly. - Photo: CSX
Photo: CSX
Multiple women working for CFD voiced concerns during Michael Washington’s tenure as fire chief, saying the workplace culture allowed women to be disrespected and treated unfairly.

Cincinnati’s fire chief, Michael Washington, has been fired from the Cincinnati Fire Department (CFD) for allegedly creating a workplace culture that is “unwelcome to women,” city manager Sheryl Long’s office announced March 24.

According to a press release, Long said the city’s administration and fire department will work to pursue “long-term, sustainable workplace culture change." Long said she does not believe Washington is capable of implementing or overseeing those changes.

“I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discriminatory, hostile, or unfair working environments in any city department,” said Long. “Cincinnatians place their trust in the fire department, which is tasked with keeping all of us safe. If the workplace culture within the department is unhealthy, that’s a violation of the community’s trust.”

According to public documents, multiple women working for CFD voiced concerns during Washington’s tenure as chief, saying the workplace culture allowed women to be disrespected and treated unfairly.

Based on the complaints, Long invited social services organization Women Helping Women (WHW) to deliver training to CFD staff in November. Training started on Dec. 15 to outline goals and expectations, but WHW said in a summary report that Washington rushed the timeline of the program and misrepresented the purpose of the training to CFD employees.

“Impacted by the short timeframe, there was initial misrepresentation of the engagement as sexual harassment training, which impacted the way some participants showed up in the space or their openness to engage in the content, feeling like it was punitive or that it was in response to actions others had engaged in, and now they were being disciplined for those actions,” the summary said.

Training and engagement sessions between WHW and the fire department also were sporadically attended, with some meetings having only one participant and eight sessions having no attendees.

The summary report from WHW said that those who attended the training sessions “had positive change in each of the three learning outcomes, with significant increase (82%) in individuals' ability to provide resources for survivors of gender-based violence.”

Still, written survey feedback from CFD employees who participated in the program showed “concerns and frustrations that such training, while objectively effective, cannot be taken seriously when problematic behaviors are modeled by [current leadership’s ‘boys club’ mentality.]”

According to reports, women in the department also complained of not being engaged or present in leadership decisions – including promotional panels – and multiple staffers called the WHW hotline directly for support after training.

“Every employee deserves a safe and fair workplace, and we have to unequivocally reject and rectify violations of that environment,” said Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval. “I fully support City Manager Long’s decision, and we will continue to support her during our work to make CFD a healthy and welcoming place for women.”

Washington was first hired by the department in 1993. He’s served as a mentor at University of Cincinnati and is on the board of trustees at the Cincinnati Fire Museum. CityBeat reached out to Washington for comment on the allegations surrounding his firing but did not hear back by press time.

Assistant fire chief Steven Breitfelder has stepped into the role of interim fire chief as the city begins a nation-wide search for the next chief.

Breitfelder is expected to hold staff meetings with the department to “discuss the workplace issues and set expectations.” He’ll also address Cincinnati City Council’s Public Safety and Governance Committee, though a date for his appearance has not been set as of press time.

Follow CityBeat's staff news writer Madeline Fening on Twitter and Instagram.

Coming soon: CityBeat Daily newsletter. We’ll send you a handful of interesting Cincinnati stories every morning. Subscribe now to not miss a thing.

Follow us: Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter
Scroll to read more Cincinnati News articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.