British Columbia

Richmond's female firefighters walk off job, allege harassment

Richmond's fire chief is promising changes after all of his female firefighters walked off the job, many citing widespread sexual harassment from their male colleagues.

Richmond's fire chief is promising changes after all of his female firefighters walked off the job, many citing widespread sexual harassment from their male colleagues.

Chief Jim Hancock acknowledged that his department must prove it is safe for the female employees to come back to work in the city south of Vancouver.

A half-dozen women work alongside about 200 men at the fire service in Richmond.

"It's going to be a new set of rules, rules that probably should have been in place earlier," he told CBC News. "I think we're within a couple of weeks of resolving the majority of the issues and putting things right."

Hancock has promised sensitivity training, a new code of conduct and separate washrooms for the half-dozen women working at the department alongside about 200 men.

Two female firefighters have taken formal action against the Richmond fire service:

  • Sandra Jansen filed a discrimination complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
  • Jeanette Moznik went to the B.C. Supreme Court alleging that male firefighters committed lewd, pornographic and even life-threatening acts of harassment against her.
  • Among other things, Moznik alleged in her statement of claim that other firefighters cut off the water supply to a hose she was using to battle a blaze, put human feces in her boots and pants, and displayed hard-core pornography in her presence.

    Female firefighter killed herself

    The accusations come on the heels of the suicide last year of a female fire captain in Richmond, Jocelyn Roberts.

    Hancock denied Roberts took her life over work issues, as Jansen and Moznik have claimed. But the chief acknowledged that Roberts had a tough job as one of the first women to manage male employees in the department.

    "Certainly the workplace was an element in her life that caused her stress," he said.

    The chief said Jansen "was concerned about the suitability of the workplace and felt it wasn't a safe place to work."

    Of Moznik, he said: "She's still a valued member of this department and we look forward to resolving the issues with her."

    Last year, fire captain Boni Prokopetz came to a settlement with the fire department in nearby Burnaby after alleging that male colleagues harassed her for 11 years.

    Two of the male firefighters who had supported Prokopetz later filed complaints of their own, saying they had faced threats and retaliation from co-workers for doing so.

    One was told that he had killed any chance of promotion for backing Prokopetz.

    The case prompted other B.C. women in the industry to step forward with similar complaints.