Are You a Sunshine Fireman?

Let me begin this missive to my fire service buddies by suggesting that the cold winter weather here in New Jersey is wreaking havoc with my front porch-sitting, cigar-puffing, thinking-chair sessions. Ladies and gentlemen, I have been forced to conduct a...


However, let me remind you that not everyone did their duty during that conflict. Heck, there were people in my generation who sat out the Vietnam conflict in Canada. We have no idea about just who those people were that could not stand up to the hardships of that far-ago winter and decided that it was better for them to go home. Let me suggest to you that these are the people who folded their tents when things got tough and skulked off in search of their own personal creature comforts. These are the people that Mr. Paine labeled as summer soldiers and sunshine patriots.

Are you beginning to see where I am headed with this message? It is my intention to challenge your commitment to our fire service. Let me ask you another serious question. Do you step in to do your share of the work at your fire department, or do you take the glory and leave the dirty work to someone else? Is it possible that you are talking the talk without any possibility of ever being able to walk the walk? There are far too many among who trumpet their deeds without ever having stood in the breech during a pitched battle with the "Red Devil."

Let me suggest that you should spend some time seriously addressing the guts of this question. Why do you belong to your fire department? What are your reasons for being on your local fire department? Let me broaden this one out a bit. Once you have arrived at an understanding of the motives for your membership, has your organization arrived at an understanding of the reason for its existence? Does your department exist for all of the members, or a select few within the ruling clique? This too is another question which is very difficult to answer. But ignoring it does not make the problems which it causes go away.

There are those fire departments which exist for all of the right reasons. These organizations have created a community-oriented emphasis which allows them to provide an effective level of service to the citizens they are sworn to protect. They also provide an organizational family orientation, one where all members are treated as though they were members of the fire department family. This is very good. This is the model for which your fire department should direct its efforts. Let me also suggest that there are fire departments with which I am familiar that are being run along the lines of an old-time, old-boys club.

There are fire departments which exist for the amusement and entertainment of one small group of members. It might be a clique issue, or it might be a case of the "founding family" syndrome. With a clique scenario, a certain group of people decides to seize control. It then elects its friends and their minions to the positions of leadership and who then begin to run the department for their own entertainment. People with whom they disagree are run off or driven into a cone of lonely silence by the people in power.

Sadly, these selfish people are out for themselves and their own interests, and nothing more. Oh, they might be in it for the glory, but most people discover early on that there really isn't much glory in what we do. Oh, they might be in it for the excitement of riding the big red fire trucks (or one of the other colors currently in use). Let me assure you that the excitement eventually passes. Sadly, if left to their own devices, people like this can kill an organization.

Let me remind you that truth telling is far better for you and me than is lying, at least when it comes to assessing your personal motives for belonging to your fire department. Over the past three decades my consulting firm has provided in-depth performance assessments for a great many fire departments. One part of each consulting job involves conducting interviews with members of the organization which is being studied.

There is a favorite question which I ask during each interview I conduct with the individual fire department members. It is simple and may seem familiar to you by now. What part of belonging to your fire department gives you the greatest personal satisfaction? Can you guess what the number one answer is? It is a simple, single word answer in many cases. That word is 'camaraderie'. There are a number of words which you can use to describe what camaraderie means to you. Here is a short list:

  • Friendship
  • Solidarity
  • Companionship
  • Company

Quite simply, people who use the word camaraderie are telling me that they are glad that they belong to something. They go on to tell me that membership provides a great deal of satisfaction to them. They value what they get and they do not want to lose it. More than that, they do not wish to disappoint their associates. These are solid citizens who wish to be part of a sharing and caring team. Is this what you wish for yourself?