A volunteer firefighter in the New York City suburbs says she was plied with alcohol and served up as a “birthday present” to a ranking officer by the department chief, after which both men violently raped her in a firehouse bathroom.
“Had fun last night,” then-Wantagh Fire Department Chief Kenneth Kelly Jr. allegedly texted the victim the next morning. “But, remember, that’s between you me and Joe only forever.”
Instead, the fire medic—who is trained as a firefighter and an EMT—is now suing 51-year-old Kelly and 28-year-old Wantagh FD Engine 7 Captain Josef Seier, accusing the pair of physically and sexually assaulting her last year. She requested a jury trial and unspecified damages from Kelly, Seier, and the Wantagh Fire Department, according to a civil lawsuit obtained by The Daily Beast.
(The Daily Beast is not revealing the alleged victim’s name.)
Vesselin Mitev, the woman’s lawyer, said on Thursday that the “grotesque” attack has “ruined her life.”
“She’s had these extraordinary feelings of humiliation, shame, she can’t sleep,” Mitev told The Daily Beast. “She was brutally assaulted by two people who she considered friends, and not only colleagues, but her superiors. That has made her reconsider whether she’ll ever again be able to do the thing she most enjoyed doing, helping others.”
The woman, who is in her mid-20s and has a day job as a physician’s assistant on Long Island, according to Mitev, “loved being a firefighter and loved being part of what she thought was a unit.” However, Kelly and Seier “considered her, literally, a disposable sexual vessel,” Mitev said, adding that his client has been unable to return to her volunteer position since the incident.
Reached by phone by The Daily Beast on Thursday, Kelly declined to comment on the accusations. Seier did not respond to voicemails and emails seeking comment. Officials with the Wantagh FD did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday. No criminal charges have been filed against either man.
The allegations against Kelly and Seier stem from the evening of Jan. 14, 2022, when the woman arrived at Wantagh FD Station #4 around 9:30 for a gathering to celebrate Seier's birthday, according to the lawsuit, which was filed Thursday in Nassau County Supreme Court.
When she got there, the woman was “immediately served and continuously overserved with multiple alcoholic drinks” by Kelly and Seier, the lawsuit states. They both “encouraged” her to knock back various different liquors, including Malibu rum and a spirit called “Black Death,” it says, going on to allege fire district officials had been previously warned that male firefighters in Wantagh preying on intoxicated female members was “a recurrent ongoing problem.”
In this instance, Kelly and Seier—the woman’s direct supervisor—had a premeditated plan to get her drunk and sexually assault her, according to the lawsuit.
Throughout the evening, while the woman was seated at a bar in the fire station’s company room, Seier kept his hand on her thigh and continually leaned into her, the suit claims. As the night wore on, Kelly allegedly started making lewd comments to the woman.
At roughly 2 a.m., the woman says she heard Kelly say to Seier “that they were going to ‘wet her like a sponge,’” followed by Kelly “shutting down the party and telling everyone to leave.” That’s when, according to the lawsuit, she “began to realize that the Defendants' intentions were to sexually assault her in her intoxicated state, as she would not be able to consent or fight off their sexual advances.”
When the firehouse cleared out, the woman found herself alone at the on-site bar with Kelly and Seier, her suit says. That’s when Seier allegedly “began forcing himself upon” the woman, “kissing her against her will.”
“Come on,” Seier kept repeating, trapping the woman between himself and Kelly as she attempted to leave, according to the lawsuit. As she struggled to get away, the men informed her that there were no security cameras in that part of the firehouse.
“You want to see this big dick?” Seier allegedly asked the woman.
“We know you like it,” the suit claims Kelly said, “and then reminded [her] that it was… Seier's birthday and that she was to be his ‘present’ all while the [woman] was trapped between both [Kelly and Seier] who were visibly sexually aroused.”
The woman began to slip in and out of consciousness, and after eventually blacking out, she came to in the firehouse bathroom, according to the lawsuit. With the door locked, Kelly and Seier removed the woman’s clothes before Kelly bent her over the sink and raped her, “unprotected and without her consent,” the suit continues.
“At the same time, Defendant Seier forced the [woman] to perform fellatio on him,” it goes on, alleging that Seier digitally penetrated the woman against her will, as well. Kelly eventually left, leaving Seier to continue the attack, choking the woman in the firehouse officer’s room, where she claims he raped her, too.
When the woman got home around 4 a.m., she says she got a text message from Kelly, who pressured her to keep the attack quiet. This was “a clear admission” to what had happened, the lawsuit states.
She has since continued to endure physical pain, as well as “severe psychological harm and depression,” according to the lawsuit.
“It is grotesque, it is barbaric, it is callous, it is simply unconscionable,” Mitev, the woman’s lawyer, told The Daily Beast. “And then they tried to whitewash the whole thing, saying she didn’t promptly report it—that was what they tried to dance around behind, and there was no attempt to settle this. We had to give [the Wantagh Fire Department] notice of claim under the law for this municipality. They knew about this.”
Mitev said the woman has taken an indefinite leave of absence, spurred by inaction on the part of the Wantagh FD. In March of last year, he said he got a letter from the fire district’s attorney, who claimed the department had severed ties with both Kelly and Seier. However, the woman told Mitev that the pair “were right back on [Fire Department] property weeks later, hanging out and joking around as if nothing happened.”
“She knew it wasn’t safe anymore,” Mitev said.
Kelly’s name has been removed from a department roster on the Wantagh FD website; Seier remains listed as the captain of Engine 7.
Firefighters are, by and large, a selfless and honorable cohort. But there are occasional exceptions. Last year, an assistant fire chief in Utah was sentenced to prison after pleading guilty to raping a female firefighter under his command. Also last year, as The Daily Beast first reported, a West Virginia firefighter was investigated by the FBI on accusations of raping an underage girl in his firehouse, ultimately receiving a 14-year sentence. In 2018, an Illinois fire captain was convicted of drugging and raping a probationary employee, going so far as to videotape the brutal assault. A few years before that, more than a dozen FDNY firefighters and officers were accused of gang-raping a civilian in a Bronx firehouse.
The Wantagh fire medic is “keeping all options open” in considering pursuing criminal charges. In the meantime, Mitev said she filed the civil suit “in order to vindicate not only her rights, but those of others who have unfortunately suffered similar fates at the hands of sexual oppressors.”
“She truly is someone that exemplifies the spirit of trying to help others,” said Mitev, “and it is just grotesquely unfortunate that this happened to her.”