First person: Sexually assaulted, harassed as an EMS explorer
The firefighters who assaulted a young woman pursuing her paramedic dream are still at the departments she was dismissed from for reporting the incidents
In the days after the body of firefighter-paramedic Nicole Mittendorff was found and allegations of bullying and harassment were made public we received messages from women who have experienced bullying, harassment and sexual assault in their EMS agencies and fire departments. We are sharing this submission anonymously to protect the author from further harassment, assault and retaliation.
EMS runs in my blood. My grandfather owned his own ambulance service after he got out of the military with my grandmother who was a nurse. Ever since I was a young child, I watched "Rescue 911."
I started in an EMS explorer program the day I turned 14. I saw my first freshly deceased person at 14 and also saved my first life at 14. I lived half a mile from the station and would ride my bike there to catch calls every day.
I lived for EMS.
At 16 I joined a neighboring fire department's explorer program. Our advisor was a lieutenant. This program was a little more organized than the first since it was a paid department versus the volunteer ambulance service. We had monthly trainings and we were assigned to certain shifts at different stations so there wouldn’t be an overrun of teenagers at one single station.
MySpace was just starting to take off and being able to send messages about favorite songs was fun. I was friends with most of the department and talking to one of the firemen was nothing unusual to me.
I saw no harm in it.
This fireman left his laptop open at the station one day and his partner started looking through it and apparently he had an ulterior motive with all of the instant messages he sent to me.
He was the first firefighter to sexually harass me. Thankfully he was stopped before he carried out any of his intentions.
When I reported it, I was suspended from the fire station for two weeks; he missed one shift.
I transitioned from middle school to high school. Things were running smoothly until one day it was rainy outside and I was cold. I went to lie down in the back where another volunteer was playing video games.
I laid down in the bed and curled up. Then he came over and laid next to me. I could tell by the way he was breathing that I was not going to be able to get up and out of the situation I had unknowingly put myself in.
I was sexually assaulted by him, someone I thought I knew and the second "friend" to attack me. I was told if I ever told anyone what happened that afternoon he would kill me and my family.
He knew where I lived. He told me I needed to act like nothing ever happened and that is what I did.
I was 16.
I graduated high school and got my EMT-Basic license three months after graduation. I became a co-advisor for the fire department explorer program where I had started. Our explorer program lieutenant when I started was now a captain and still in charge of the explorers.
He continued asking me to come to the station more and more to do office work. As I was working he would come up behind me when the other crews were out and begin touching me; rubbing his hands across my back or down my legs.
'I no longer mattered'
He was a married man and had kids. I kept telling him to stop and he would.
He kept asking me to have sex with him. I would ask what if I became pregnant and he would say we would take care of that if it came to it. Him asking for sex only started after I turned 18.
I had had enough and reported him — the third firefighter and "friend" to harass and assault me — to an officer in the department I trusted. Per my request he talked to the man who assaulted me; he owned up to what he had done.
Later that week I was asked to come to the fire station for a meeting with the chief, assistant chief and chaplain. They asked me to leave the department because I was asking for too much trouble with the two previous incidents and this recent sexual assault.
I felt like I no longer mattered. I poured everything I had into that explorer program and leading our team in competitions. To have all that swept away was heart breaking.
I tried to put these incidents behind me, which just made me to want to succeed that much more. I started paramedic school and clinical rotations. During a rotation, I was with an ambulance crew that was transporting a patient to the hospital.
I was working with an awesome medic that I admired a lot. We stood up to swap seats and I had a flash back from out of nowhere, and he saw it on my face.
A 'friendly ear'
After we dropped the patient off at the hospital, he told his partner to go grab a drink. He sat me down and asked what happened.
I told him I didn’t know what he was talking about. He told me not to lie to him and that his wife was sexually assaulted, has PTSD and has that same look that I had all the time.
For the first time since I was assaulted and harassed, nearly five years before in that volunteer ambulance station, I told my horror story. When he asked if I had ever told anyone I said no.
This medic I looked up to called the chief and assistant chief at the volunteer ambulance service.
I was immediately called to the station for a meeting and dismissed from the department. I was told that I was no longer mentally capable of doing my job and that they were calling the state EMS board to have my license suspended. Something I had worked and longed for all my life was gone.
Now I was jobless and the men who assaulted me were still employed. I dropped out of school for two semesters to get my life back in order. I stayed in my house for two months with the doors locked in fear that the paramedic from the ambulance service would show up at my house.
I was terrified but I worked through it. I slowly came out of my house and re-entered the world.
Today, all three men still have their jobs. The captain is still in charge of the explorer program.
I still have to interact with my former co-workers and still get "that" look from them daily five years after my ordeal came out into the open.
I was called many things during those years, but the one that stuck out most was failure. I was told I was a failure to the female-gender in the fire/EMS world.
I had let them get to me. When it happened I didn’t suck it up like everyone else and get on with my life. I let it interfere.
I used to get told that things like this happened all the time and our voices don’t matter. But you know what, we do matter. We have our own voices.
I have less night terrors now, yet sometimes get anxious with large crowds. In the last year I have started telling my story. The more I tell it, the more I realize I am not the only one that has gone through this.
I returned to paramedic school and graduated in 2014.
I have been working as a paramedic now for two years and I am not going to ever let some boy tell me what I can and cannot do.