I have been following with interest the discussion of a National Firefighter Code of Ethics. The other day I saw that Ken Willette, the Public Fire Protection Division Manager at NFPA, blogged about the one written by the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association this past year. Being obtuse, like I often am, I had actually never gone to the FirefighterBehavior.com blog although I have seen some of the well-written articles that have come from posts on there. Nothing like going to the source, huh? Well, if you haven't done it, you need to go yourself, and when you are through, being the fire service leaders I sense you are, send your people there as well.
But this doesn't stop at the fire service. In fact, as I have said many times before, there are lessons to be learned from a brotherhood of individuals who, as recently as a decade before, were considered to be the last bastion of integrity, honor, and valor in a society in which those values have been eroding daily. The ever-decaying values in the fire service are an excellent case study, and many questions can come from how we went from where we were to where we are today.
And I am not suggesting that the entire fire service lacks these ideals; we just have not been very good at removing the elements from our midst who do not embrace those same values. Well, our profession (and for the uninitiated, this refers to both career and volunteer professionals in the emergency services business) has been challenged by a number of external forces that, to the casual observer, seem to have affected the type of person we are getting to replace those who have gone on to other places.
Emergency response, paid or not, is very much a value-driven occupation. Just because you show up and put out a fire or lug someone to the hospital, is irrelevant, despite the arguments that we are not customer oriented. If anything, our business is all about the customer, because frankly, we tell people all the time that we can replace their material objects, but we can't replace the people. We say this is the reason we rescue first and not salvage first. But ironically, we have many of the same people saying that we shouldn't consult with our community in the spirit of partnership, or that we know better than they do what they need, or even more cynically, that their observations regarding our service and the way we do it doesn't even matter.
Therefore, there is a profound need to make sure the people we bring in not only have read and signed a memo telling them what our ethics happen to be, but that they LIVE these ethics. That they BREATHE these ethics. That they BELIEVE in these ethics and that they are proud to associate with others, a brotherhood of others, who feel the same way.
A while back, I happened upon a rollover in another jurisdiction while off-duty, and stopped to see if they needed any help. The driver was already on the way to the hospital, and the crews were just picking up debris, but I know a lot of firefighters in that jurisdiction, so I was really just chatting before heading on. In the corner of my eye, I saw a firefighter pick up a phone on the ground.
I don't know about you, but my cell phone wasn't cheap, and they aren't indestructible either. Plus, even if it is just damaged, you could still get the contacts off of it, etc. But the firefighter opened up the phone, laughed to himself, and THREW the phone into the damaged car. Not gently, mind you, but enough that it broke. Since it wasn't my jurisdiction, but everyone there knew me, I walked over and picked up the now damaged phone, then handed it to a trooper. I glared at the guy on the way by, but I didn't say anything. But I let him know that this was unacceptable, at least in my department.
I won't say that we don't have any of those types in our organization, but as Capt. Tom and I were saying the other day, the balance has been strongly tipped in favor of the "good guys" for a while now, and we continue to drum our organizational culture into those who don't get it. But these values don't come naturally to some and frankly, do you even want to take the chance of trying to drag a member to that place, or should we look first for those with the right stuff, and then TEACH them to be a firefighter?
If I were advertising, I would say that if you revel in someone's misfortunes, or if you like the power of being a uniformed public official, or if driving in total disregard of others appeals to you because you have lights and siren, you probably shouldn't apply. There's nothing at all wrong with chasing the adrenaline, but it certainly needs to be kept in the perspective that you will take on a challenge to help others, not to wish it on people so you can get your fix.
If we really believe in our brotherhood, our profession, as a calling rather than just a job, we need to take a look at who we introduce to the team. So long as we continue to permit those who are among us to soil our ranks because they fill a spot, we will continue to tarnish the image we used to be proud of. I, for one, prefer that when I go to see my kids at school, they consider firefighters to be worthy of admiration, rather than another person they can't trust. There's a lot of that going around lately, let's not let it happen to us.