DISCIPLINE AND MISCONDUCT Once adequate policies are in place, the deciding moment comes – enforcing them. That means discipline, the word so many people hate, particularly volunteers. The mere mention of disciplinary action sends tremors up and down the spine of many small fire department...
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Once adequate policies are in place, the deciding moment comes – enforcing them. That means discipline, the word so many people hate, particularly volunteers. The mere mention of disciplinary action sends tremors up and down the spine of many small fire department officers.
As much as we may not want to, we cannot escape invoking a healthy dose of discipline if our small fire department is going to achieve any degree of success. Fire departments are often referred to as paramilitary in function, meaning we are “like military.” Consequently, our very nature calls for an element of discipline. The word discipline conjures up all sorts of foul views, but consider that the word is derived from disciple, meaning one who follows the teachings and examples of a respected leader.
Once again, that all-important element of maintaining and operating a small fire department emerges – leadership, most notably respected leadership. A notebook full of policies and procedures is useless if leadership is not going to enforce them, and most important enforce them impartially. In a small fire department, discipline often means dealing with your neighbors or your best hunting buddies because they’ve done something outside of department protocol or they have failed to meet some requirement of the department. Any chief who tells you that’s easy probably isn’t honest with a lot of other people either.
Discipline in a small fire department means keeping volunteers within acceptable boundaries and on a charted course. Effective discipline goes hand-in-hand with good supervision. Good supervision in the small fire department means making certain all volunteers know what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it and why they are supposed to do it.
Once a small fire department has policies and procedures, the challenge becomes discovering and eliminating the causes of faulty behavior. The reasons for misconduct as given by Snook, Johnson, Olson and Buckman in their book Recruiting, Training and Maintaining Volunteers (Emergency Services Consulting Group, West Linn, OR, 1998) are: boredom, discontent, idleness, lack of interest in the job, lack of work and assignments, inadequate supervision, misunderstandings of policies and their need and purpose, lack of uniform enforcement of regulations, resentment, poor communication and emotional strain.
Find out through counseling what’s at the core of a misconduct problem and you’re on your way to resolving the problem. There are basically three different misconduct conditions that a supervisory person in a small fire department contends with: