Time To Clean Up

I was reading Curt Varone's latest at Fire Law the other day and while his post was right on track, a quote he repeated struck me as timely: "We need to keep our own house clean or somebody's going to come and clean it for us…and we're probably not going to like the way they clean it."  I have heard variations of that before, but with all the goings-on these days regarding unethical (and simply nonsensical) behavior in our ranks, it seems like a message worth repeating.

Daily, it seems, we see some story that defies logic, something that a firefighter has done that we all just shake our heads at.  But a good question would be, where are the ethical examples being set in that person's department?  Is the culture in that department such that these behanviors are tolerated, or simply passed off as being, "That's how so-and-so is"?  Our conduct is examined daily by many- that scrutinizing comes as a result of being held in high esteem by some, and by virtue of some just looking for a reason to hate us.  The jealousy that comes from those who aren't held so highly in the public regard is painfully obvious right now, as the fire service and other public servants are being thrust out as "greedy", "lazy", "corrupt" and using other contemptible adjectives.  As leaders, we need to provide guidance to our troops that will help them move into the future with more credibility, more respect, and more personal strength than they currently are subjected to.  That is our role as the mentor and we need to be diligent about making this shift.

The jointly released Firefighter Code of Ethics is an important document to provide such guidance, yet I would bet that not many of the individuals who work with us have actually read it.  Well, here's the short form, in case you don't have time to read the whole two page document:

  • Always conduct myself, on and off duty, in a manner that reflects positively on myself, my department and the fire service in general.
  • Accept responsibility for my actions and for the consequences of my actions.
  • Support the concept of fairness and the value of diverse thoughts and opinions.
  • Avoid situations that would adversely affect the credibility or public perception of the fire service profession.
  • Be truthful and honest at all times and report instances of cheating or other dishonest acts that compromise the integrity of the fire service.
  • Conduct my personal affairs in a manner that does not improperly influence the performance of my duties, or bring discredit to my organization.
  • Be respectful and conscious of each member’s safety and welfare.
  • Recognize that I serve in a position of public trust that requires stewardship in the honest and efficient use of publicly owned resources, including uniforms, facilities, vehicles and equipment and that these are protected from misuse and theft.
  • Exercise professionalism, competence, respect and loyalty in the performance of my duties and use information, confidential or otherwise, gained by virtue of my position, only to benefit those I am entrusted to serve.
  • Avoid financial investments, outside employment, outside business interests or activities that conflict with or are enhanced by my official position or have the potential to create the perception of impropriety.
  • Never propose or accept personal rewards, special privileges, benefits, advancement, honors or gifts that may create a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof.
  • Never engage in activities involving alcohol or other substance use or abuse that can impair my mental state or the performance of my duties and compromise safety.
  • Never discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, creed, age, marital status, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual preference, medical condition or handicap.
  • Never harass, intimidate or threaten fellow members of the service or the public and stop or report the actions of other firefighters who engage in such behaviors.
  • Responsibly use social networking, electronic communications, or other media technology opportunities in a manner that does not discredit, dishonor or embarrass my organization, the fire service and the public. I also understand that failure to resolve or report inappropriate use of this media equates to condoning this behavior.

I'm sure that at one time or another in our careers, volunteer or paid, we have touched on one or more of these issues.  I'm certainly not hypocritical, so don't take this as preaching.  But as Curt's quote came about in regard to poor judgement being exercised by individuals, that same poor judgement taints the general impression the public has of us all, regardless of where you are or how your organization is considered.

We may be the most professional individuals in our departments, but tolerating unethical behavior is, as the Code of Ethics points out, tantamount to endorsing it as acceptable.  Jst as the Good Ol' Boys Club is no longer tolerated in boardrooms, offices, or even in the barracks any longer, we are called upon to act as mature, responsible members of the community, even when it sounds like fun to  act in a sophmoric fashion.  Nothing good will come from the continued bad behavior and if we don't clean it up, you can rest assured the cleaning will come.

Take my advice: the business of delivering emergency service is evolving.  The winds of change affect us all, regardless of where we happen to be doing this job.  Over the course of time, the survivors of change weren't the strongest or most powerful, they were the ones who were able to adapt and ride the tides.  If you haven't yet read the whole document, I suggest you do so and even if your organization won't commit, I strongly suggest that you do.  It is time to clean up our house.

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Michael "Mick" Mayers

Battalion Chief with Hilton Head Island (SC) Fire and Rescue and an Emergency Response Coordinator with the United States Department of Health and Human Services’ National Disaster Medical System Incident Response Coordination Team.

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