Nicole Mittendorff’s death has one positive side
It was just over one year ago, following a lengthy search, that a ground team of Shenandoah National Park Service and Virginia State Police personnel discovered the body of 31-year-old Nicole Mittendorff, a Fairfax County firefighter whose Mini Cooper was found parked near White Oak Canyon with a suicide note left inside.
Since then, the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department (FCRFD) has continued to fall under the microscope surrounding allegations of harassment and bullying within the department — much of it focused on how Mittendorff was treated by her colleagues.
Now, the Fairfax County Professional Fire Fighters and Paramedics union says it wants to set the record straight, while also pointing to a positive result from Mittendorf’s tragic death.
“There has been much speculation, frustration, and anger surrounding this subject and we feel we should provide the facts as we know them,” says retired Lt. Craig S. Luecke, the local union’s director of communications.
“This suicide was not a result of any type of harassment or bullying occurring within the FCFRD workplace,” he insists. “This tragic suicide was a culmination of life events, personal struggles and destructive behavior that family, friends, and co-workers were untrained to recognize and unaware of at the time — quite frankly, many of our members and co-workers were unaware of her tumultuous personal situation . . .
“We do not have a systemic bullying problem. We do not have a systemic cultural issue. We do not have a systemic culture of harassment. Like any family or organization, we have our differences and disagreements. Those are isolated incidents or personalities that cast the negative light on the entire organization.”
But Mittendorff’s husband, Steve, told radio station WTOP this week that the union had no place to rule one way or another on the cause of his late wife’s suicide, saying nobody will ever know the exact reasons she took her own life. He revealed in an earlier interview that he and his wife had discussed at length the online bullying that had targeted her, so for the union to say it did not exist is wrong.
As for the suicide itself, Luecke notes that the firefighter’s “horrific and unnecessary death was not in vain.”
Since the suicide, he says the FCFRD has implemented an “aggressive and comprehensive training program” on behavioral health and suicide awareness with assistance from the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).
The program ensures that everyone within the large department receives access to a behavioral health program while ensuring operational peers assist with suicide awareness and behavioral health issues.