Organizational discipline is a topic that most folks don't want to deal with as either a supervisor or subordinate. There is, however, a great deal of interest and thirst for information that will help the leaders within an agency to be consistent, fair, transparent and honest when forced to...
To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login
Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.
Complete the registration form.
Let's examine the evidence: When a firefighter responds to a medical emergency that requires injuries to be exposed to determine their extent and to deliver treatment, firefighters are expected to cut clothing away from a person's body. When a person dials 911 and requests assistance, firefighters can enter the person's home without a search warrant. Many times, sick or injured people are home alone and their possessions are in plain sight. The belief is that the firefighter cutting away the clothing or assisting a person sick at home will not violate the highest level of public trust. All of us, career and volunteer members alike, must have this level of public trust to perform our jobs. If a firefighter robs a bank, beats a spouse, threatens workplace violence or misuses a weapon, it is difficult to get the public to buy into placing all of the necessary trust into the department. Off-duty behavior is just as important as on-duty conduct if we are to maintain our value to those we are sworn to protect.
After a negative event occurs involving our members, the newspaper headline or TV news tease starts with the fact that "A firefighter from…" was connected to a crime. It also generally is pointed out if the person was a previous member or a retired member, so pick your staff carefully. It is easy to take exception to the way the media covers stories involving fire and EMS members, but the reality is that a higher standard is expected of public officials who hold positions of trust in our society.
Knowing that the public is demanding a higher level of behavior from us, we must meet that challenge or suffer the consequences of our actions. Most departments have structured discipline processes that outline how and when they are implemented. Once negative behavior is observed that must be corrected, a formal process must start and be carried out fairly and honestly every time for everybody in the system, no exceptions. The expressed goal should be for the system to correct behavior and to do the least amount of damage to the member and the department. This is always a balancing act and adds a significant measure of stress to the folks who must implement the system.
To close, let me remind you to do your department and yourself a favor and select the best folks to become members (never just settle). Next, try to instill self-discipline at all levels of your department. Finally, have a solid discipline that is fair, open, transparent, consistent, and honest.
Until next time, stay safe!
DENNIS L. RUBIN, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is chief of the District of Columbia Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. Previously, Rubin was chief of the Atlanta, GA, Fire and Rescue Department. He holds a bachelor of science degree in fire administration from the University of Maryland and an associate in applied science degree in fire science management from Northern Virginia Community College, and is enrolled in the Fire and Emergency Management Administration program at the graduate school of Oklahoma State University. Rubin is a graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officers Program, is a Certified Emergency Manager (CEM) and has obtained the Chief Fire Officer Designation (CFOD) from by the International Association of Fire Chiefs. He is an adjunct faculty member of the National Fire Academy since 1983. Rubin is the author of the book Rube's Rules for Survival.