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.
Over the past several months, I shared 30 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.
#31: Watching TV/movies at the station.
Ever since I started my career in 1975, the television and crew room has been a “favorite room” for most firefighters. Some company officers will approve watching the news in the morning during breakfast, and some won’t. News and sports come on during lunchtime and then off until all duties assigned have been completed for the day. Typically, this will be just before dinner is started and will continue on if there are no after-dinner duties such as training, inspections, etc. By 8:00 p.m., folks will head for the crew room to watch TV. In some stations, there is more than one big screen TV, so there could be news on one and a sport event playing on the other.
The important aspect of TV usage is what you are watching. I know that X-rated programs are played, as well as some DVDs that can also cross that moral integrity line. I strongly recommend that you do not play anything that falls in those categories. Watch programs and movies that your spouse and even your children wouldn’t be offended by if they walked in on you. Company officers are responsible for you and your actions, so decide now if you want to get them in trouble with you. Don’t forget: You will have to work with them for a long time to come. Make the right choice, and be morally courageous.
#32: Personal space between each other.
I know this sounds lame to some of you, but with both men and women working in fire stations today, we see many sexual harassment complaints filed. Violations of personal space or touching while on a couch or other furniture has become an issue. What starts off as well-intentioned fun can end in a sexual harassment lawsuit. Men and men, women and women, and men and women sit on this furniture together, so I would strongly suggest that you keep appropriate space between each other. No touching in any way is the best way to prevent any issues-no arm on arms, legs on legs, hands on hands, etc. Again, you are at work, you are all professional firefighters, and you must act that way. Be morally sound.
#33: Inappropriate touching between members.
This topic is a spin-off of the previous topic; however, we now see more and more intimate relationships forming between firefighters who work together. If you are in a personal relationship with your coworker and cannot control yourself when you are around that person, then I would strongly suggest asking for a transfer to another shift or even another company. These relationships are great, but they can be difficult to maintain so that there is no jealousy, either between partners or with other crew members. Make wise choices!
#34: Sexually explicit magazines of any kind.
With regard to sexually explicit material, we know that in today’s environment these types of publications have no place being left out in any location in the firehouse. The days of having a copy of each in every toilet stall, TV room, alarm room, kitchen, and bunk room is over-or should be. Department policy covers this topic. And believe me, women firefighters do not want to see it. Don’t have them. That is the best choice.
#35: Male and female firefighter qualifications and performance.
With more women entering the fire service, men have to step up and recognize that women firefighters have passed all the same tests as them. Treat your female coworkers with respect. It is time to drop the discrimination and adverse behavior toward our professional women firefighters.
They are trained to do the same thing as everyone else, and you may even find one saving your life on your next fire call. Be kind and respectful!
#36: Showing respect for each other.
I think that you would agree with me that shared respect for one another is imperative. We should look after one another at all times and treat our neighbors as ourselves. This behavior should be exemplified every day to each member of your crew at all times.
The job we do is a high-risk occupation. We depend on each other’s respect to get us through every incident. Every time I have attended or participated in a funeral service for the loss of a firefighter, I see the outpouring of respect and love for each other on the job. Hundreds of fellow firefighters will travel through all sorts of adverse conditions to attend a firefighter’s funeral to pay their respects for a job well done and salute the last call he made to help someone in need. That’s the outward show of care and respect for each other.
I would like to suggest that we not wait for another funeral of a fallen brother or sister to show our respects; we should be showing it to them every shift while they are alive. We risk a lot to save a lot. Tell your crew members how much you appreciate them and what they mean to you. This will make you both feel good.
#37: Starting rumors about a coworker.
We all have feelings. We are emotional beings, and when we are challenged in any way we get upset. Similar to practical jokes, starting false rumors about a coworker is inappropriate in every way. No one wants to feel left out or laughed at for a crazy rumor that someone has just pulled out of the sky. Don’t do it.
#38: Picture taking at the scene and sharing.
I recently read headlines online where yet another firefighter medic lost his job and was personally sued for sharing pictures he had taken of an automobile fatality victim. A young girl was killed in a car crash, and he was one of the firefighter/medics working the scene.
As reported, he apparently sent the pictures of the deceased young lady showing all the details of her injuries to some friends using his cellphone camera. In turn, those friends sent the pictures to more friends, and so on.
Department policy was already in place, and members had been advised of the policy that states no personnel other than the department designated public information officer or accident scene officer will take pictures of any victims and any scenes for any reason and share them with others.
The family sued and won a large settlement. The firefighter/medic lost his job. Many lives were hurt in the process. Follow your department rules and regulations/directives, and use good moral and ethical judgment when on the job.
#39: Acting professional in all jobs.
I know this topic may sound redundant, or not worthy to point out specifically, but some firefighters think that when working a structure fire you will be as professional as anyone can ever be. This may be true, but even with that particular job I have seen firefighters disrespect their company officers and coworkers on the scene of a working fire. Whether you are working a structure fire or some other scene, it is vital that you show respect for all those working with you.
When firefighters are out of the station teaching at schools, checking hydrants, shopping, etc., they should always act in a professional manner. There are a lot of jobs we do in the fire service, and we must conduct ourselves professionally at every one of them.
#40: How you personally act on and off duty.
One night I received a call from one of my firefighters to “let me know” that another one of my firefighters had been dancing on a bar top and pulled his pants down to show everything he owned to everyone there.
He did and got thrown out of the local dance club. The police were already outside, so they had to investigate the disturbance. No charges were pressed by the club owner. However, our entire city and department had to now bear the black eye of shame that we would feel because of this ludicrous act.
The firefighter was off duty, but many citizens at the club knew he was a local firefighter and many of his coworkers were partying with him.
No one stepped in when he got up on the bar to stop him before he made things worse. This is why I say, “Watch out for each other in a moral, ethical, and professional way.” We will live with that incident forever. Make the better choice. Be professional all the time!
Stay tuned for 10 more tips in in the final part of this series.