A comment made during a one-on-one meeting with the fire chief prompted the Clark County Fire District 6 board chairman to apologize during a public meeting last month.
During a regular meeting in March with the fire district’s board chair, Dean Bloemke, Chief Jerry Green said the conversation hit a lull and he asked Bloemke for any words of wisdom.
“That was when he made, to me, an inappropriate comment regarding Chief (Kristan) Maurer,” Green said.
Maurer is one of three assistant chiefs who work under Green. As the logistics and planning chief, Maurer is in charge of overseeing the construction of the agency’s new Salmon Creek fire station as well as facility upgrades to the agency’s other two fire stations.
“(Bloemke) had concerns about her being able to deal with the contractors while we’re going through all the building,” Green said. Then he asked for clarification. ” ‘Do you mean because they’re male contractors?’ and he confirmed that.”
Green describes himself as having close relationships with his assistant chiefs and so shortly after the conversation, he called them into a meeting to tell them what he’d heard Bloemke say.
“I want them to trust me and I want them to be able to say things that are difficult to me as well. I knew it was going to be hard for (Maurer) hearing that,” he said. “They all agreed that we need to move forward with this.”
Green consulted legal counsel, who confirmed that his take on the conversation was accurate — what Bloemke had said was prejudice against Maurer for being female, Green said.
So Green called another one-on-one meeting with Bloemke and went back over the previous meeting’s scenario.
“I said, ‘I just want to confirm with you that that’s what you meant, that because (Maurer) is a female, she is not able to handle this, in his opinion,’ ” Green said. “He said ‘yes, I do.’ ”
Through an attorney, Green informed the board the day before their April 18 meeting that he would like to discuss the matter in executive session.
Bloemke said in an interview with The Columbian that was the first he’d heard that his comments had caused any turmoil and said that his intent was never to question Maurer’s abilities.
“My concern was more about the contractors we were dealing with who may push the envelope or change orders,” Bloemke said. “We know she’s a good, capable person but there will be people looking to take advantage of her, man or woman.”
The $9 million building project replaces an outdated and overcrowded station that serves Salmon Creek, an area that has seen an increased call volume.
“I just wanted to make sure we were prepared for such a large task and that the taxpayers would be protected,” Bloemke said. “I didn’t realize that was the path (Green) might perceive that … My intentions were never to make (Maurer) feel not adequate. I didn’t mean any misgivings about her abilities, that wasn’t what I was aiming for at all.”
He went on to call Maurer a rock-solid employee capable of the task.
Maurer, who has worked for the fire agency for 18 years, has completed the executive fire officer program at the National Fire Academy and will finish her master’s degree in public administration in June.
Bloemke said that he appreciated the chance to publicly apologize.
“A public apology was the best way to let her know that I sincerely did not mean to affect her in any way,” Bloemke said.
According to the minutes from the April 18 board meeting, Bloemke made the following statement to Maurer following the executive session:
“At this time, I was made aware I made some comments to Chief Green which were inappropriate. I apologize for any effect this had on your work environment and if it affected you in any negative way. I hope you’ll forgive me.”
Following the apology, Maurer made the following statement:
“It has been a rough month for me and my family. The evaluation of our personnel, from commissioner to newly hired firefighter, based on anything other than merit cannot be tolerated. The practice of assessing our personnel’s capabilities based on gender or any other factor has to stop tonight. This is the only way to promote an atmosphere of excellence at Fire District 6 moving forward.”
Bloemke responded by saying, “I agree with everything you said. I strive for those values.”
When reached for comment, Maurer said that she never wanted to be put into the spotlight and that she worried about the ordeal affecting her reputation within the fire industry. She did not feel that what happened was a barometer for how people viewed gender at Fire District 6 and said that Bloemke’s apology, in her opinion, had resolved the issue. She said that her response to Bloemke in the meeting said all she wanted to say.
“It was an extremely heartfelt apology,” Green said. “He struggled getting through it. I think he really did understand the gravity of the comment.”
Green said that addressing the issue this way would make the department look bad, but added that he hoped it showed that the agency is proactive and willing to make things right.
“We strive for professional relationships. We have respect for everybody in our department,” Green said. “Even as a commissioner, we’re going to hold them to a standard that we would hold anyone else in our department.”