CORRECTION: The Fire Chief is Brian Dale, not Brian Danes. Name has been corrected below.

I wonder if Martha Ellis always knew she wanted to be a firefighter. I can imagine her as a kindergartner showing a crude drawing of a stick figure battling flames in a red truck to her teacher saying, “Someday, that’s going to be me.” For 23 years, that was her. Originally, she worked as a wild land firefighter before joining the Salt Lake City Fire Department to serve honorably as a structural firefighter. In 2009, she was promoted to the rank of Division Chief for Salt Lake City, becoming the Salt Lake Fire Department’s Fire Marshal, the first female to hold the position. However, after speaking with Mayor’s Director of Communications in 2016 about concerns within the fire department, ranging from a hostile working environment for female firefighters to alleged fraud by executive members of the fire department, Martha Ellis was demoted and eventually terminated.

Ellis’ story matters because her experience is not completely unique. While she is making headlines, many women have been in similar situations in the workplace, facing sexual harassment or assault, being passed over for promotions despite outshining the other candidates and being forced to confront abuses of power. The firehouse is a microcosm of our own community.

This past July, audio from within the firehouse was released in which then Fire Chief Brian Dale is heard using inappropriate and offensive language to refer to female firefighters in his department. Chronicled in The Salt Lake Tribune, the comment section of this article was revealing. Instead of condemning Dale’ conduct, some supporters claim this audio could not be fairly judged without proper context. However, I cannot imagine a situation where it would be appropriate for a superior to call a subordinate a “f–ing b–.”

On her comedy show last February, Samantha Bee hosted a “Job Fair for Future Women,” detailing the harassment and assault women face while pursuing careers like forest ranger or stand-up comedian. At the end of the segment, she looks directly into the camera and says, “What’s the point of encouraging young girls to dream big if any career puts them in [danger]? There isn’t a workplace… where we are actually keeping women safe.” The #MeToo movement has only further demonstrated the sheer volume of sexual harassment in every occupation.

Two years have passed and many of the characters central to Martha Ellis’ demotion and consequential firing have moved on in their careers; the previous fire chief has retired with full benefits and individuals accused of defrauding the city of Salt Lake have received promotions. However, Martha Ellis is unable to move on. Despite a reinstatement order from the Civil Service Commission of Salt Lake City, she is still without a job and is suing in federal court in order to return to the Salt Lake Fire Department as the Fire Marshall. While her story is easily lost in the news cycle dominated by coverage of Washington D.C., Salt Lake City should not move on either. We need to be motivated to force a culture change in our society for the young girls scribbling pictures of firetrucks for their families’ refrigerators.

letter@chroncile.utah.edu

@TheChrony

Morgan told her parents as a child that she would never become an engineer, so naturally, she is studying mechanical engineering here at the U. After a year of writing Orrin Hatch's Congressional Office daily with little response, she decided her time would be better spent writing for the Daily Utah Chronicle's Opinion Desk. Morgan focuses her writing on politics and science, two of her favorite things.

8 COMMENTS

  1. What a great article about an equally great person, Martha Ellis! As a retired fire department battalion chief from Virginia, it absolutely sickens me every time I hear or read about a situation like that of Chief Ellis.

    And there’s worse. Woman firefighters have been, and continue to be, victims of sexual assaults and rape in fire stations by their fellow firefighters or superior officers, especially in volunteer fire departments. But even the women firefighters of the U.S. Forest Service are not immune. See PBS Report, They reported sexual harassment. Then the retaliation began. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/they-reported-sexual-harassment-then-the-retaliation-began

  2. I have known Martha for 40 years. UGH! 🙂 She never said I can’t. She said I will!
    I have always admired Martha and her drive to WIN. I have great faith that she will WIN because she does not give up.

  3. Martha Ellis you’re my Hero ! Don’t you dare give up ! Please help her Daily Utah Chronicle , this criminal behavior has got to STOP ! These creeps have been destroying hard working , intelligent Females for way to long ! I went through the same TERRIBLE FEMALE HARASSMENT for seventeen years with the Department of Corrections at Pelican Bay State Prison. Why when it’s proven that her and most of the other Women , including myself were telling the truth are they are still getting away with , I would not be surprised murder ! All of those involved should be doing time because it happened , continues to happen and it’s REAL ! Martha Ellis stay strong , thanks to Women like you for bringing more evidence to the table …… their piles of crap are not fitting under the rug anymore ! You are helping so many Women that endured this same kind of punishment , we deserve justice ! It destroyed my life …. and so many more, still happening , wow . Sending love and prayers to you Martha , they will get theirs ….. stay safe and keep us posted Daily Utah Chronicle , thanks !

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