Local fire chief accused of sexually harassing intern, racism
Banks Fire District Chief Rodney Linz was accused of sexually harassing an underage intern and racially abusing employees during a presentation at a Nov. 10 board meeting.
One accuser said she was a 17-year-old senior in high school working under Linz as an assistant teacher in a fire science class during the 2018-19 school year. She recalled that Linz frequently commented on the way high school students dressed.
"He created a very uncomfortable power dynamic in the classroom where he was superior to all, and everything he did was OK," the former student said at the meeting of the Banks Fire District's board of directors. "My breaking point came my senior year shortly before my 18th birthday. The chief approached me and my grandmother, who I was showing homecoming pictures to, leaned over my shoulder, saw the picture of me in my homecoming dress, and told me I looked like I was asking to be bent over."
The accuser added that Linz insulted her when she asked for an apology.
"I came back the next day, and told him that comment made me uncomfortable and that comment wasn't OK. All I wanted from him was an apology and for him to say this wouldn't happen again," she told the board. "He told me he was sorry but that I would have to get used to it being a young attractive female. That's what he told me."
The allegations were broadcast live over Facebook by Terin Vance, a former volunteer firefighter who gave a presentation at the meeting alongside fellow former volunteer Sean Grey and current volunteer Joe Wren.
During the "presentation by citizen" section of the meeting, the current and former volunteers also said the district changed its harassment policy after the alleged incident.
According to the presentation, in 2016, the Banks Fire District instituted a harassment policy stating that "written reports concerning harassment will be forwarded to the fire chief unless there is an allegation against that person, and if so, then written reports will be forwarded to the chairperson of the board of directors, who will delegate the matter to district counsel."
But in July 2019, after the alleged incident, the policy language was changed to remove the part about accusations against the chief being sent to legal counsel, according to the current and former volunteers.
Banks Fire District spokesperson Scott Adams said the district is prevented by law and policy from responding publicly to employee matters.
"The district takes all allegations and complaints very seriously and the board is working hard to appropriately investigate and address allegations. Several of the actions already in progress were announced publicly at the last board meeting, something those streaming part of the event live chose not to cover," Adams said in an email. "Further, the district is in process of preparing an appropriate release regarding what is happening. In the meantime, the district requests that those we have the honor of serving keep an open mind and remember that there are two sides to every story."
The presentation also mentioned separate instances of alleged inappropriate behavior by Linz.
According to district personnel notes provided to the board of directors, during a lunch break in front of other firefighters, Linz said in reference to an African American firefighter: "She is Black as Black can be. I mean, she is from the deep jungle."
When a female firefighter reported a male firefighter for inappropriate touching and comments about her weight, Linz "talked her down from filing an official complaint and explained that this firefighter was just joking around," according to district personnel notes provided to the board of directors.
At a birthday party, a woman was dancing, and upon leaving the dance floor, Linz approached her to say something like "looks like you should be working the pole," according to a letter submitted to the board.
Linz did not respond to phone calls requesting comment Thursday and Friday.
When reached by Pamplin Media Group, the Banks Fire District would also not immediately provide names nor contact information for its board members. That information is also absent from the district website.
Adams said the board will release a statement next week.
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