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Ethical Decision Making During Your Fire Service Career

Firefighters, as well as most human beings, are faced daily with having to make ethical decisions. Why is this important you may ask? You may already think you are making decisions ethically.

Many of us are able to justify what we are doing, whether or not it is ethical. Well, as firefighters and future firefighters, it is imperative that we make ethical decisions. The public we serve and that trusts us, as well as the department wanting to hire you, is expecting us to have very high ethics, among other things. If you read the newspapers, it is very easy to see that numerous people every day, including government officials and fire service personnel, are making the wrong ethical decisions. These wrong decisions are leading to their termination, suspension, demotion, public scrutiny, etc.

One of the best resources I have found to help guide me in making ethical decisions is something known as “The Six Pillars of Character,” by the Josephson Institute. These six core ethical values form the foundation of the Character Counts youth-ethics initiative. More detailed discussion of the Six Pillars is included in Making Ethical Decisions, a Josephson Institute booklet available on their website:

1. Trustworthiness

  • Be honest
  • Don’t deceive, cheat, or steal
  • Be reliable – do what you say you’ll do
  • Have the courage to do the right thing
  • Build a good reputation
  • Be loyal – stand by your family, friends, and country

2. Respect

  • Treat others with respect; follow the Golden Rule (treat others as you would like to be treated)
  • Be tolerant of differences
  • Use good manners, not bad language
  • Be considerate of the feelings of others
  • Don’t threaten, hit, or hurt anyone
  • Deal peacefully with anger, insults, and disagreements

3. Responsbility

  • Do what you are supposed to do
  • Persevere: keep on trying!
  • Always do your best
  • Use self-control
  • Be self-disciplined
  • Think before you act – consider the consequences
  • Be accountable for your choices

4. Fairness

  • Play by the rules
  • Take turns and share
  • Be open-minded; listen to others
  • Don’t take advantage of others
  • Don’t blame others carelessly

5. Caring

  • Be kind
  • Be compassionate and show you care
  • Express gratitude
  • Forgive others
  • Help people in need

6. Citizenship

  • Do your share to make your school and community better
  • Cooperate
  • Get involved in community affairs
  • Stay informed; vote
  • Be a good neighbor
  • Obey laws and rules
  • Respect authority
  • Protect the environment

If you are not already using most of these traits, I highly encourage you to do so. Practicing what you preach and “walking the walk,” as opposed to “talking the talk,” will help show a fire department that you are worth their time, effort, and energy to hire as a firefighter.

STEVE PRZIBOROWSKI, a Contributing Editor, has over 20 years of fire service experience, currently serving as a deputy chief for the Santa Clara County Fire Department in Los Gatos, CA. Steve is also an instructor for the Fire Technology Program at Chabot College in Hayward, CA. He was named the 2008 California Fire Instructor of the Year and is a former president of the Northern California Training Officers Association. He has earned a master's degree in Emergency Services Administration, a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, and an associate's degree in Fire Technology, completed the Executive Fire Officer Program and has received Chief Fire Officer Designation through the Commission on Professional Credentialing. You can contact Steve through his websites: and