Let’s Put Discipline Back in the Fire Service

I am sure we have all heard it around the kitchen table or at meeting night in our own fire stations, the great malady of all times in the fire service: “These new guys just aren’t the same…”; “Back in our day…” It really doesn’t matter if...


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I am sure we have all heard it around the kitchen table or at meeting night in our own fire stations, the great malady of all times in the fire service: “These new guys just aren’t the same…”; “Back in our day…” It really doesn’t matter if you are in a large city department or a small rural volunteer company, the fact is that the folks who are joining our organizations clearly are different and have some different values than those from days gone by. I also believe that we as fire officers, leaders and fire instructors have a missing ingredient that we are failing to provide. That ingredient is discipline.

Discipline takes on many forms and most of them seem to have a negative connotation. It is my belief that discipline can be the most valuable corrective and educational tool that we have in the fire service.

One definition of discipline is “the systematic training or subjection to authority especially the training of the mental, moral, and physical powers by instruction and exercise” (Funk & Wagnall’s). Wow, that doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? These are exactly the principles that we should foster in the fire service and our own departments. Since the fire service loves acronyms, I have created an acronym using the word DISCIPLINE that relates to something that we can all bring to the fire service. I have approached the acronym as something we all need and we can apply it from the officer point of view as well as the firefighter point of view. Take it and apply it as you see fit:

D – Determination.

I – Integrity. If you are a company officer, all you have is your integrity. Your personnel should be able to trust you and what you say. It is really that simple. Too many people take their personal integrity lightly. If you are a firefighter, your company officer must know that your personal integrity will allow him or her to trust you and your actions and abilities. For officers and firefighters, integrity means being truthful and forthright, and it also means looking at your abilities honestly.

S – Sincerity. “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” I saw this quote many years ago and I am unsure of its origin, but the sentiment is true. Fire officers must truly care about their members and members must care about each other and truly wish to become part of the team.

C – Competence. This is easily said, but not always done. Passing the test does not make you competent; your performance under stress in the field demonstrates it much better. As an officer, do you have technical ability and demonstrate a command presence? As a firefighter, do you keep your skills sharp and keep yourself current so that your shift officer is never embarrassed by your lack of knowledge, skills or abilities?

I – Initiative. Do you have to wait for written orders or “directive number 17” to come down from headquarters or are you a self-motivated starter who will get things done without supervision? Officers enjoy having firefighters on their group or engine company who show initiative and self motivation.

P – Pride. This is nothing more than caring about what you do, whether or not anyone is looking. It is about you, your appearance and your actions. It also applies to off-duty behavior. Personal pride as an officer or as a firefighter means a lot. It reflects in our behavior as others see us.

L – Loyalty. An officer should always show a pronounced sense of loyalty to the department and administration as you move up the ladder and chain of command. You should also show a sincere sense of loyalty to those who serve with you as subordinates and make you look good every day. That loyalty can be tough to balance between those who serve with you and those whom you serve. There is a difference between loyalty and blind allegiance. Loyalty involves a conscious desire to achieve the goals of leadership, and blind allegiance means following folks even when we know they may be wrong.

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