Discipline: A Learning Tool for all Seasons

Rather than dwell on the authorization aspects, the goal should be the creation of a fire department environment wherein discipline is an accepted tool of organizational demarcation and delineation.


Control is an important function within every organization. But this is especially true in fire departments. Given the critical nature of our work, we need to all be on the same operational page. Some form of similarity must exist between our personal goals and the goals of our organization. Let me suggest that in most cases reasonable people can be found operating within the constraints of reasonably constituted organizations. These however, are not the problems to be considered in this article.

This time the legitimate use of discipline as a training tool for lining up the views of the unwilling member with the official needs of the organization will be addressed. According to the text Management in the Fire Service, 5th ed., “Many officers and their staffs are uncomfortable when they hear the word discipline." For many folks, "… the word is almost interchangeable with the word punishment.” But it really is not about punishment, it is about education and perspective.

A definition of discipline seems appropriate at this point of our discussion. This definition will aid our shift in emphasis from the widely misunderstood negative connotation of discipline to a more modern, positive style. According to Webster, there are three basis ways in which we can examine discipline. Discipline is something which is;

  1. Subject to authority
  2. A form of instruction
  3. A form of self-control

Rather than dwell on the authorization aspects, most of which are well known, the goal should be the creation of a fire department environment wherein discipline is an accepted tool of organizational demarcation and delineation. I think that a great deal of the positive morale seen in effective organizations comes from the self-discipline which evolves as the norm of performance established by the members themselves.

An excellent example of this form of self-discipline came to the forefront following the season-opening loss of the New York Giants football team. That the mighty Super Bowl Champion Giants lost to the Dallas Cowboys in a real shocker to all of us veteran "Big Blue" fans. The cause of the Giants’ poor preseason performance was the subject of much speculation. Personally I thought that they were guilty of reading their own press clippings, but that's just me.

In the aftermath of their defeat, some of the veteran players felt that the coaching style of the team coach had allowed certain players to fall back into lazy patterns. I do not see how this was possible, but it seems they felt that there were those in their midst who needed harsh discipline and yelling. So these veteran players determined that they would provide the necessary “incentives” for those players who needed such things.

These self-disciplinary measures worked. The Giants played well. What they did was create an environment wherein tough, solid playing was the expected norm. Unfortunately, they failed to repeat the glory of their 2011 season, but 9-7 isn't all that bad. Over the years there have been some real ups and downs for us Giant fans, but the coach has worked to create an environment wherein the players knew what was expected of them and what the penalties for non-compliance were. That is how it should be.

This comes very close to the best sort of disciplinary scenario. The people involved knew the goals of the organization and the types of results that were needed to achieve the expectations of the group. They then developed additional environmental incentives above and beyond the negative disciplinary format established by the organization itself. The short term results have been quite good. As a Giants fan I can only hope that they have a long-term effect. We shall see how it goes this year when camp opens in August. 

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