San Luis Obispo city officials get burned by ‘hot’ firefighter video

We’ve all done things we wish we could take back. For San Luis Obispo fire Chief Garret Olson and City Manager Katie Lichtig, one of those has got to be their involvement with a video that was intended to be funny, but backfired with the filing of formal complaints of sexual harassment.

The video, shown at last month’s San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce annual dinner, plays off the stereotype of “hot” male firefighters. It was cringe-worthy entertainment that opened with a shot of Olson walking into the chamber office and answering questions from female chamber employees. One asks if any shirtless firefighters would be attending the dinner. Another wants a “full monty” firefighter calendar (a reference, in case you’ve forgotten, to the 1997 British movie about a group of unemployed men who put on a Chippendales-style strip show).

In another segment of the video, a costumed Lichtig is among a trio of women sporting fake mustaches and muscleman T-shirts — another take on the hot firefighter theme.

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Reactions to the video have been sharply divided.

Some say it’s harmless fun and accuse liberal “snowflakes” of having no sense of humor. There also have been accusations that the firefighters union is pouncing on this for political reasons.

It’s true that relations between the city and the firefighters union have been strained, which is all the more reason for treading carefully.

City officials aren’t naïve; they should know that everything they do and say in their official capacity is put under a microscope. And yes, they are acting in their official capacity at a very public chamber dinner attended by about 600 guests.

We’re certain that no offense was intended, but the video was, at best, an outdated and poorly conceived attempt at humor.

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As several readers have pointed out, what if the roles had been reversed? What if a female chamber of commerce executive wandered into a fire station full of men who proceeded to ask whether the women of the chamber were going to pose naked for a calendar or whether they were going to attend the dinner in bikinis? Not so funny, right?

Lichtig, to her credit, has taken the appropriate steps of apologizing and agreeing to accept the consequences of her actions.

Olson, too, is contrite: “I sincerely apologize to anyone I’ve offended with my comments and actions,” he told The Tribune.

Given their acknowledgments and apologies, do we really need an extensive outside investigation?

This is a straightforward case. Olson came up with the idea for the video — he told us as much — and we can see the video for ourselves.

What’s left to investigate?

A refresher course on workplace policies and conduct would be a far better investment, so let’s keep investigation costs to a minimum, please.