Cincinnati Fire Department chief fired, workplace 'unwelcome toward women,' city says

Cincinnati Fire Chief Michael Washington Sr. gives a speech on his visit to Engine 5 in Over-the-Rhine in this 2021 photo.
Cincinnati Fire Chief Michael Washington Sr. gives a speech on his visit to Engine 5 in Over-the-Rhine in this 2021 photo.

Cincinnati City Manager Sheryl Long on Friday fired Fire Chief Michael Washington for creating a hostile work environment for female firefighters and then failing to respond to orders that the culture be fixed.

Washington is not capable of overseeing the changes needed to improve the environment for female workers, Long said.

“I want to be clear that I do not tolerate discriminatory, hostile, or unfair working environments in any City department,” Long said. “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.”

A statement from the city manager's office said there were multiple complaints about workplace culture from female fire department employees during Washington's tenure.

In a statement, Washington said he had hired a law firm. He said he was thankful for his 30 years at the department, calling it "one of my life's most rewarding experiences."

Assistant Chief Steven Breitfelder has been named the interim chief. Long said the city would conduct a national search for a new chief.

Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval said he supported Long's decision. "Every employee deserves a safe and fair workplace," he said in a statement. "We have to unequivocally reject and rectify violations of that environment."

Washington was appointed chief in May of 2021 by former City Manager Paula Boggs Muething. Washington came to the $170,000-a-year job after holding every rank and doing almost every job. He grew up in firehouses, starting when he was 14 when he would ride his bike to fire scenes just to watch the firefighters work.

After receiving the complaints Long asked Washington to do a climate assessment, which he did not do. she said. So Long hired Women Helping Women to train supervisors.

"It should not take the city manager’s involvement to directly address legitimate concerns from staff," Long said. "Mr. Washington showed no attempt to pursue long-term, sustainable culture change."

Washington has shown a disregard for direct orders and Long said, "on more than one occasion, misrepresented the direction provided. I no longer have confidence he is able to fulfill the duties of this position."

This report will be updated

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Fire Department chief f Michael Washington fired