After serving three decades as a firefighter who progressed through the ranks to become a fire chief, I thought this may be the time to share my thoughts on how all firefighters and officers can better serve-not necessarily from a physical command perspective but from a personal character perspective. I call it leading from the front-regardless of your rank-through daily conduct that is morally and ethically sound.
Last month, I shared 10 of my dos and don’ts, and here are 10 more to add to your pocket guide. This series should be used as a daily reminder of the things we should and shouldn’t do to respect and serve our community.
#11: Dress code when on or off duty.
This topic should be easy enough to figure out. When reporting for duty, you will be following the department’s standard operating guidelines (SOGs) or standard operating procedures (SOPs) for uniform wear. Many departments now require that personnel change into their departmental uniform on arrival at the station as a means of preventing personnel from “taking stuff home” (e.g., transferring contaminants from the fire station to their homes via their uniforms. This practice, as well as only laundering uniforms at the fire station, is worthy of following even if it is not an official SOG for your department).
While on duty, whether in uniform or in workout clothing for physical training, keep all body parts covered as to not be suggestive. You never know when a member of the public may stop at your station to ask for directions or ask that his child be given a chance to see the fire trucks. Nor do you know when a spouse or significant other of one of the on-duty members will stop by the station. Do you really want to answer questions regarding why you or other crew members were on duty in various stages of undress?
An important part of your structural firefighting protective ensemble (aka, your bunker gear) is the clothing underneath it. Except when engaging in physical training, you should be wearing your approved station uniform so that you have that second layer of protection. (Never put on your structural protective clothing over workout clothing made with synthetic fabrics, as these can melt to your skin under your turnout gear if the temperature around you gets high enough.) Following these simple rules will keep everyone on the same page-the safe page!
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention again that when you are a community firefighter, you become known as such. That means that whether or not you are wearing your department colors or on or off duty, you share that extra responsibility to represent your community as an ambassador. Don’t forget: Someone is always watching and listening to you-no matter where you are. As long as you are acting respectfully and professionally, there should be nothing to worry about.
#12: Sex in the fire station.
I know that your eyes opened wider when you read this. But you had to know that I would address this issue because we have had so many incidents over the years where this topic was the root cause for many infractions.
We do not assume that the behavior depicted on TV or in the movies of firefighters and the fire service are the signature for all fire departments across the country. What it does say, though, is that enough of this activity has taken place at one time or another in firehouses that movie producers and directors want to add it to their story line.
I can honestly say that a lot of people I’ve worked with had issues with alcohol, drug use, and sex addiction. This is true across the globe. There is no excuse for these behaviors, but the stress level is very high, and a lot of firefighters ease the stress by acting out in a variety of ways.
Don’t invite anyone to your fire station to have sex. Period!
If you are married and involved with another person and think that you can just have that person over to your station to have sex, forget it. Even if you don’t get caught by your company officer, the whole department will know about it that next morning or even that night.
Do act with moral integrity and high standards at all time. Treat yourself and your spouse or significant other with respect. Your coworkers may not outwardly judge you, but if you give them ammunition like that, you may not be held in high esteem by some.
Do ask yourself these questions if you are already having sex in your fire station or are planning to:
- Am I breaking departmental rules and regulations?
- If I am, what is the punishment if I am caught and charged?
- Will I lose my job?
- How will I deal with the shame and peer harassment?
- If there is another person in your personal life, what will he/she think? Will you lose that person from your life, including your children?
- How guilty will you feel, and how will it affect your job performance?
- How will you earn back the respect you will lose?
- Are you leading by example as a serious professional?
- How will you explain your violation to your family?
Be professional, and make the right choices from the start. Be morally courageous! This is not one of those “oops” moments.
#13: Personal interactions with coworkers.
- Don’t let your coworkers/friends drive under any influences.
- Don’t provoke anyone to do anything immoral or illegal.
- Don’t be nosy about someone else’s relationships.
- Don’t become jealous for any reason.
- Do build solid and long lasting relationships.
- Do be someone’s support or even his “rock” if needed.
- Do be kind in your friendships.
- Do be patient.
- Do build trust together.
#14: Use of department equipment.
- Don’t ever take a piece of equipment off a truck and take it home to use it on your own home projects (e.g., a chain saw).
- Don’t miss a check out of your truck’s equipment.
- Don’t abuse any of your equipment or the equipment of others; this includes personal protective gear. Too often a person’s turnout gear has been the target of a practical joker; this practice must stop. Our protective gear is too important for fun and games.
- Do keep all your equipment clean and functional.
- Do treat your equipment and apparatus like they are your own.
- Do let your officer know if there is anything wrong with your equipment.
- Do follow all your SOGs on tool and equipment usage.
#15: Use of sexual innuendos or overtones at the station.
- Don’t use any language that can be considered offensive by people such as your spouse, significant other, or other family members.
- Do at all times stay away from any verbiage during any discussions with others that has sexual innuendos or overtones.
- Do always act respectable and respectful.
#16: Addressing senior leadership in your department.
A senior member is any fire department member who is of higher rank than you.
- Don’t shun an officer when you are addressed by him.
- Don’t argue with an officer. The last thing you want is to be reprimanded by your company officer; we all have opinions, and we can share the information calmly.
- Do always acknowledge an officer verbally by rank (“Good afternoon, Chief”) or respond with “Yes, Sir” or “No, Sir” when asked a question.
- Do, when you have a difference in opinion, always meet to discuss the issue in private.
#17: At headquarters for a meeting.
- Don’t be disrespectful in any way.
- Don’t make any verbal comments that could be misconstrued as sexual innuendos or overtones.
- Don’t use foul language.
- Do be on time, and be neat and clean from head to toe.
- Do be in the proper uniform.
- Do be prepared to answer any questions from an officer.
#18: Driving the chief’s car.
- Don’t ever park in front of a fire hydrant.
- Don’t ever use your emergency lights or siren unless you are responding to an emergency.
- Don’t try and show off by riding by friends’ homes or your house with the chief’s car.
- Do realize this is your chance to show how mature and responsible you are.
- Do obey the speed limit.
- Do use directional signals.
- Do acknowledge those who may wave or say hello to you.
- Do obey all traffic laws; people are watching you.
#19: Driving apparatus: emergency and nonemergency.
- Don’t break any traffic laws, especially speeding; we can’t be effective if we don’t make it to the scene.
- Don’t use your lights and siren unless required or dictated by your response.
- Don’t show off while driving in the community.
- Do always drive in accordance with your department’s SOGs and your training.
- Do obey all traffic laws, especially what you are to do when approaching intersections, stop signs, and traffic lights.
- Do always keep your apparatus clean.
- Do be professional at all times while in operation.
- Do be courteous at all times. Citizens are taxpayers who contribute to your salary and the purchase of your apparatus.
#20: Taking an apparatus to a store.
- Don’t block any parking spaces if you are at the store or mall on a detail. People can be possessive of their spaces and don’t think a fire truck that is not working an emergency should be there hanging out and blocking spaces for customers. Your crew may be in the store, but I would suggest putting the truck away from the general parking spaces but close enough to get out front if you receive a call to respond.
- Don’t act out in any inappropriate way. Remember: All eyes are on you.
- Do act respectful to all citizens who you may come in contact with while you are positioning your apparatus in the parking lot of your store.
- Do be ready to answer questions from the public. If asked, “Is there an emergency or fire?” respond with, “No ma’am, we are just stopping for supplies for the station.” Smile while you respond. Not everyone in the public thinks it’s OK to take your fire engine to the grocery store for lunch or dinner supplies; being polite helps.
Stay tuned for 10 more tips in part three of this series.