Liberian Sworn in as First Black Fire Chief in Fairfax, Virginia

A Liberian has been sworn in as the first black fire chief in the U.S. county of Fairfax, Virginia. According to Washington D.C.’s WTOP, John Butler was formally sworn in as Fairfax’s chief of the Fire and Rescue Department on Tuesday to replace Richard Bowers.

The report says Bowers retired from his post in the wake of complaints about sexual harassment in the department, challenges that Butler will need to deal with.

He served as fire chief of the Howard County Department of Fire and Rescue Services in Maryland for the last 25 years, after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Delivering a speech briefly after taking the oath of office, the new fire chief explained to the gathering his background as an immigrant, naturalized American, and a marine.

“Most importantly, I am your new fire and rescue chief,” he said. “I joined the fire department as a high school graduate. I had two pieces of paper: a diploma and a DD 214,” referring to his active duty discharge papers.

The Liberian immigrant and his family left their native home following an attempted coup in the early days of the country’s brutal civil war.

“There was no 911 to call. It was ‘protect you and your family by all means necessary,’” he described the troubling days of the attempted coup.

The chair of Fairfax’s Board of Supervisors, Sharon Bulova, expressed her delight over the background and experience of the new fire chief.

“This is a man who can handle himself and who can inspire and work with our already-excellent Fire and Rescue Department but be able to get to some of the problems and some of the issues that we’re not OK with,” Bulova said.

Earlier this year, a sexual harassment complaint was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of two members of the department. An investigation had taken place earlier about alleged harassment against female firefighters in the department. The new chief has promised to ensure the success and well-being of every individual member of the department.

An executive of the county, Bryan Hill, also expressed confidence in the leadership of the new fire chief to succeed: “We really want to just move forward.”

Featured photo by Elvert Barnes

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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