Since the founding of FDC Training I have had the great fortune of meeting many excellent people that I consider more than just colleagues, I consider them brothers. Chris Hebert and Dave Ianonne; I wouldn’t have been able to get this concept up and running had it not been for the two of you. You two were key players in helping me establish a brand that I hope will be able to hold true and stay relevant for the duration of my career. John Dixon, Andy & Joe Starnes and Dan Kerrigan, thank you gentleman for your support and willingness to help refine and tweak my writing so that it is well received by our community.
Bob Atlas, thank you sir for being supportive and helping realize that I am just as much a firefighter now as I was before I resigned from a really poor situation. Les Karpluk, it was because of you sir that I decided to stay with this and pour myself into turning a bad situation around; I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this without your support. The hundreds of people that follow the FDC Training Facebook Page and Twitter account, none of this would be possible without any of you guys, thank you so much!
I started this off with gratitude because without those people and the countless others in my life I would probably not be writing this.
I would most likely be doing something else because at the point in my life where I started coming in contact with all these individuals I was ready to quit the fire service. Politics and bureaucracy had ruined my outlook on a career that was important to me because of family history. I started doing a lot of reading at this point and came across some the writings by John Dixon, Tim Sendelbach and Les Karpluk about leadership; I also read Billy Goldfeder’s book Pass It On. The writings by all of these gentlemen had a common theme; ethics and values.
All of this led me to ponder: What were my ethics and values? A lot of soul searching and several months later I had an idea of the direction my moral compass was pointing and it was 180 degrees the opposite the way my fire department was going in. It was also around this time that I came in contact with Captain Andy Starnes and Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries. All of these gentleman helped me realize firmly that what was going on within my agency was wrong and that I needed to stand up for what was right. Now that you have a little bit of the back story.
Let us begin this journey by defining ethics, values and ethos.
Ethics: moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.
Values: a person’s principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgement of what is important in life.
Ethos: the characteristic spirit of culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations.
How do these words apply to us as firefighters and what meaning do they have in the fire service today? Each and every one of us should have a code that we operate by. Far too often we see the news about firefighters getting in trouble for ethical dilemmas. Perhaps, one reason why these firefighters often fall into trouble is because they lack an understanding of ethics, values or ethos that they should operate by.
Chief Bobby Halton (2014) stated the following: “Firefighters must have the courage to oppose those behaviors and opinions that do not reflect our values, recklessness, bullying, and thoughtlessness. Every firefighter has the duty to express his or her beliefs, every firefighter should have the personal courage to express his or her beliefs, every firefighter should respect the opinions of others, every firefighter should have the loyalty to defend the opinions of others, every firefighter should have the integrity to express opinions honestly, and every firefighter should provide that selfless service defending the honor of those who will not be silenced.”
When we have firefighters within the agency that are blatantly breaking the rules because they lack a moral compass they need to be held accountable. The leaders that steer the wayward firefighter back are those of us that have a strong moral compass and are willing to stand up for the principles of the fire service and customer service. “We must constantly strive to improve our customer service” (Brunacini, 1996). If we are not constantly striving to improve our customer service both to our civilian and fellow firefighter customers we are headed down a bad road.
We need to be surrounded by those who serve as accountability partners to constantly insure that we stay on the path, lift us up when we fall, and correct us when we are straying. Ethics, Values and Ethos are more than just customer service. We firefighters need to stand up for what is right. I read a story recently about a Detroit Fire Sgt. that was disciplined because he blew the whistle on his department.
His fire station was in disrepair and he alerted the state of Michigan about the problem. What did the fire commissioner do? They moved him out to a different station in a less desirable battalion because he “violated the chain of command”. The Sgt. needs to be applauded because of his courage to stand up for what was right even though he knew it was probably going to end poorly.
We need to foster that attitude of doing the right thing in the fire service from customer service to showing up for work on time and not going out, partying and getting in trouble which tarnishes the image of the fire service as a whole. Where does this begin? It all starts with us as individual firefighters as we have to be willing to stand up for what is right and not look the other way when something goes wrong or is swept under the rug. We have to have that moral compass that guides our decision making and not be flexible. We need to stick to what is important to us; even if that means resigning from a position you have put time, energy and eight years into because the leadership is asking to compromise what you believe in.
Don’t give up you ethos, values, and ethics!
Halton, B. (2014). Have the Courage of Your Convictions and Humility of Our Mission. In Goldfeder, B. (Ed.), Pass It On: what we know, what we want you to know (pp. 191-194) . Tulsa, OK: Pennwell.
Brunacini, A. (1996). Essentials of Fire Department Customer Service. Stillwater, OK: IFSTA.
George McNeil, BS, NR-P, ISO