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Inside the Tragedy of Monarch Fire District Discrimination Case

Battalion chief takes his own life 16 days after being fired over his role.

The apparent suicide of recently fired Monarch Fire District Battalion Chief Fred Goodson got me thinking about several things, including my career in the world of public safety.   

I spent 30 years being a cop. That included spending ten years doing fire and arson investigations off-duty mostly for insurance companies and teaching fire investigation to firefighters and police detectives.

I also wrote articles for fire and police management magazines. This allowed me to travel all over the country and the world visiting police and fire stations. I got to know a lot of police officers and firefighters over the years.

As a cop I loved what I did. You had the best seat for one of the greatest shows in the world.

Perhaps the worst parts of the job were when political intervention interfered with you doing the right thing in performing your job and supervising other public safety employees.

Often there was much more tension and drama inside the police station or firehouse than there was breaking up a fight or putting out a fire.

Recently, when the command staff of Chesterfield-based Monarch Fire Protection District was fired over discrimination against women firefighters/paramedics, I immediately thought, “What happened and how bad was it?”  

Over the years, I had watched African-Americans and women move into the world of policing and firefighting. It was not an easy transition to watch.

For women at fire stations, it was resentful firefighters who learned they could no longer bring Penthouse Magazines to work. Some still did though, and would read the letters aloud of some deviant activity—and ask co-workers’ opinions.

It was not uncommon for new female firefighters to find their equipment tampered with. Despite the fact they had passed difficult physical tests like the men, some co-workers were never going to accept them.

Donna Kessler and Dana Buckley were two Monarch firefighters who sued the district in 2006 for discrimination and harassment. Kessler came to the district in 1996 from the St. Louis Fire Department EMS division, where she worked on ambulances responding to medical emergencies. Kessler finished at the top of her class in the fire academy.

Buckley joined in 2001. She came from the St. Charles fire Department where she had been a firefighter/paramedic.

Their complaints spell out regular harassment by command officers from everything to being disciplined for not changing from a PT workout uniform to a regular uniform when walking from the exercise room into the kitchen for a drink of water, to not being allow to train as much as males prior to promotion tests. At one time they were assigned to a different fire station every day they reported for work, while the male firefighters had permanent station assignments.    

Fred Goodson’s name came up early when Kessler claimed that Goodson called her after she had passed both the Monarch written tests and physical agility tests, Kessler claimed Goodson called her telling her not to quit her current job with the City of St. Louis because he did not think she would be able to complete the fire academy. She turned out to be the valedictorian of her class at the fire academy.   

Kessler claimed this was followed by the department and supervisors ignoring her complaints of unwanted sexual advances by a fellow firefighter that even included gifts being sent to her. Then there were unfair shift assignments. She made a good case along with Buckley.

Goodson’s name also came up in 2009 when it was alleged that he changed a favorable evaluation by Dana Buckley’s supervisor to an unfavorable one.

But perhaps the most troubling accusations were when both Kessler and Buckley reported their self-contained breathing apparatus and vehicles they were driving were tampered with. Goodson was accused of having knowledge or involvement.

I attend the hastily called public meeting where two of the three members of the Monarch Board of Directors were present and voted to fire Assistant Fire Chief Les Crews, Deputy Fire Chief Cary Spiegel, Battalion Chief Mike Davis and Goodson were fired. Fire Chief Chip Biele was allowed to retire.

There is a time to leave that many of us have trouble figuring out. I had to take a disability retirement as a police captain in 1997. Three years later I was able to pass a physical for a newly created law enforcement position. I left an interesting job as a reporter and went back to a law enforcement job.

I quit that job in 2005 and moved back to the St. Louis area in 2006. I renewed my Missouri Police License, but by the time I turned 58 I realized due to my health I had no business going back to police work.   

I thought about this when I saw that all the command officers at Monarch each had 30 or more years on the job and were in their late 50s or early 60s. They were eligible for full retirement. They had to see the termination action heading their way after the Court of Appeals upheld a jury award against the Fire District and in favor of Kessler and Buckley. Why didn’t they retire? Being fired they still get their benefits but it would have been a cleaner end to their careers.  

Perhaps they were being stubborn or didn’t think it was time to leave. But 30 years takes its toll on you even if you don’t want to admit it.

In the case of 61-year-old Fred Goodson I had to wonder why he would take his own life, after helping so many people over the course of his career.. Was it because he knew he would never get back on the job? Was it because he was ashamed of the treatment of the women firefighters?

Was the jury verdict, the payout, the action of the fire board, the appearance of wrongdoing—whether it happened or not—too much to live with?      

Tom Smith December 11, 2011 at 04:49 AM
Being a cop for 30 years surely doesn't put you into a management position. Your article is your opinion and not others. I feel you article is way off base and does not have very little facts pretaining to the Monarch Fire Protection District for Chief Fred Goodson.
John Hoffmann December 11, 2011 at 05:54 AM
Actually Tom for part of those 30-years I was in management positions. I had to hire and fire, write budgets and policy, all that fun management stuff. But you are very right on one thing. The column represents my opinion. Attached to the column are the opening statements of the women's lawyer and those of the District's lawyer for readers to see. The jurors apparently believed the case of the women.
Don Moore December 12, 2011 at 08:12 PM
Fred saved my life in 1998. Had it not been for him, I would not be writing this. Why don't you focus on the good that he did. Whether or not he was involved in the things that he was accused of has no bearing on the good that he did. Maybe it was not the humiliation of being involved in these things, maybe it was the humiliation of being publically crucified for things that he may or may not be involved in. A civil jury does not find proof beyond reasonable doubt. You cannot sit there and tell me with a straight face that the move by the board was not of a political nature either. Godspeed brother, may you find peace once where there was none.
Pat December 13, 2011 at 07:26 PM
My view is that I'm heartbroken for these men who served us so long and so well in important positions. It's all just a shame. No one impresses me more than our wonderful Monarch firefighters, paramedics, and their leadership. They are the BEST. I have a hundred-percent confidence in them and sincere admiration for them all. I rely on their good judgment, good sense, good intentions, and good knowledge. It only takes 5 seconds for any man in a traditionally male occupation to say, "These women are one of us. We need them and their skills. It was always wrong to give women coworkers a hard time, and now it's illegal too. I'll have no part in it." Choosing instead to actively or passively go along in a doomed effort to push back against "the dreaded women invaders of our realm" does show a lack of leadership and lack of good sense by Monarch, It should never have gotten started; it should never have been allowed to go on.
Linda Day January 29, 2013 at 03:45 PM
This statement, in my opinion, shows the "good ole boys network" is still alive, "the appearance of wrongdoing—whether it happened or not" - Really?! Whether it happened or not?! These women had long DOCUMENTED lists. These weren't fictious claims, nor merely implied behaviors. These rude, immature, unprofessional, harrassing and offensive things HAPPENED and for that snide remark to be tucked into this article, I find disgusting. Sorry Hoffman, you just lost a reader. These women were repeatedly and regularly crapped on by men in positions of power and by other men, in uniforms, who are "supposed" to be the good guys. Good guys don't need to harrass, intimidate or target women to make themselves feel like "real men". Why did Goodson kill himself? In my opinion, because he got caught. The world now knew his true hateful, discriminatory and unprofessional persona and rather than admit what he did was wrong, he killed himself. He "helped so many" - unless you were a woman and then his only focus was to make your life and your job hell. Where's the honor and glory in that? Why aren't you writing glowing pieces about these two women who had to struggle to overcome horrible obstacles, like Goodson and men like him, to fulfill their dreams? There's the REAL story.

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