Report Shows Fire Service's Dark Side

Firefighters charged with setting fires, cheating scandals, thefts of fire department funds and equipment, responding to incidents after drinking alcoholic beverages, harassment and discrimination.

With these incidents occurring in fire departments across the nation, it may be time to adopt a code of ethics, according to the Fire Service Reputation Management White Paper released Tuesday morning.

"The nation's fire service has long been held in justifiably high esteem. This reputation has been hard earned. The fire service is that 'rock of stability to which the public knows to turn during the upheaval of a crisis -- be that crisis a dwelling fire, rescue, natural disaster, or medical emergency," according to the document.

Unfortunately, poor decisions and bad conduct of some personnel are placing the long-standing reputation in jeopardy.

"It does not take much for those few firefighters who disregard the public service underpinnings of the fire service mission to undermine the hard-earned respect and support garnered by all the others that the fire service has strived to attain. Disturbing headlines increasingly report sensational stories of firefighters acting not selflessly and heroically, but rather selfishly and irresponsibly," the White Paper authors wrote.

The Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association saw the need for this issue to be addressed, believing it's not too late.

"This White Paper is intended as a wake-up call to the fire service. The detrimental impact from fire service members that engage in unethical, immoral, inappropriate, criminal, or other activities reflects back not just to these individuals, but to their departments and the fire service as a whole," they wrote.

The authors, who have been working on the project for more than a year, said: "Recognizing that the actions of a small minority of bad actors can have grievous widespread consequences, the fire service as a whole must be increasingly vigilant in policing itself.

Through a combination of enhanced and improved internal controls, increased vigilance, and greater acceptance of personal responsibility perhaps including, but not limited to, abiding by a Code of Ethics, the fire service can ensure that it remains true to its roots and heritage of protecting and serving this great nation."

U.S. Fire Administrator Kelvin Cochran applauded the association members for tackling the tough issue.

"Like every other profession, we in the fire service suffer the embarrassment and damage to our hard earned reputation because of the very few who choose to break the law or rules. While that may be unfair; it is our reality in today's world of instant, mass communication," he said in a prepared statement.

Further, Cochran said the White Paper "articulates some excellent solutions, and clamors for a Code of Ethics as the next logical step for our profession. We may never have the opportunity again, and I urge all fire service leaders to develop, establish, disseminate, abide and enforce a Fire Service Code of Ethics."

Specific examples of behavior that threaten the fire service reputation are discussed in the 18-page document as well as challenges or suggestions for leadership.