Tired of incompentance
What can you do? My department consists of a full-time Chief and a full-time inspector/gopher and approximately 40-45 paid-on-call members. Our department is not much different from any other department in the sense that we have our go getters, our complainers, and our followers. We have good days and bad days.
The problem is that the bad days are getting more and more frequent. The Chief and the 2nd Asst. Chief are in my opinion, incompetent. I could give you examples all day to prove this but let me just talk about this morning.
We had a building on fire. This is an older building and is split into three or four seperate sections which have various small businesses in them. The walls are wood framed with a sheet metal/tin type of outer wall. The building is located approximately .5 miles out of the city limits so there are no hydrants.
Upon arrival the north end of the building was fully involved and required a defensive attack. There was no way you were going to save anything and there were no life safety issues. The goal was to gain access to the adjoining building, do a search, and keep the fire contained to the north end.
So what's the problem?
The Chief who was IC, had little if any control over what was taking place on the fire ground. Personnel were going here and there with little direction or knowledge of what the overall plan was and where other crews were working. The first engine in could not get a draft and was out of tank water. After several minutes of trying to get a draft the Chief called for a second engine. Once a reliable water source was established, approx. 15 to 20 min. after arriving on scene the crews went to work. After another 10 to 15 min. personnel began running out of air and the Chief recognized a man power shortage and call for mutual aid which would take 15 or more minutes to get on scene. Now as for the 2nd assistant chief, well he assumed the position of safety officer. He was all over the place giving fire ground commands to crews and allowed ff's to work in smoke filled areas without SCBA because we did not have enough man power. We had civilian running all over the place including in and out of the second business that we were trying to save. I actually had to remove two people from an adjoining business that I was performing overall duties in.
I questioned the 2nd asst. chief about this and he said "I can not be everywhere and do everything" my thoughts were why are you trying. Have you ever heard of a thing called span of control? Why is he giving fire ground operation orders when he is the safety officer? This is the same person who is in charge of the training for the department.
The Chief attends very little outside training and has absolutely no management or leadership skills. He is a good ole' boy who is relying on his twenty or so years of being on the department to get him through. It is a common perception that the reason he is chief is because the city fathers like his yes man attitude.
The 2nd asst. chief attends even less outside training and has the same yes man attitude. He was a lt. before being promoted to 2nd asst. chief and yes you guessed it, the chief promoted him. He has no background in training, no public speaking experience, and has such a difficult time filling out incident reports that he simply puts in the name and address with a one or two sentence narrative and leaves the rest for the chief to fill in.
So what else went wrong? Well, I was always taught that you ventilate over the fire to release the gases, smoke, heat, and contain the fire. Where does the chief call for ventilation? Three or four holes south of the location of the fire. These are areas where there is no reason to believe there would be any extension. As I said, I was in the building adjacent to the fire. We had it stopped and contained to the north end. These ventilation holes only made our job harder.
I think the final straw was when we got back to the station we tried to figure out what went wrong with the first in engine and its difficulty in pulling a draft. Several of us, including the chief work on it. We could not find a logical explanation. I would be willing to attribute it to operator error but not entirely. The operator has approx. 14yrs of service and his an excellent operator. I also found out that on three or four seperate occasions since the first of the year other opperators have had the same problem. So what does the chief do? He says he is not sure what caused it and puts it back in the front row to remain in service even though the rest of us felt it should be taken out of service and looked at. We have three other engines and an aerial with a pump at the station and we only do about 130-150 calls a year so it is not like we could not live without it for a couple of days. But instead there it sits, waiting to fail on the next call.
So what is a person to do? Most of the other officers agree that these two should not be in their positions. The department had a vote of confidence on the chief about two years ago where approx. 70% signed a petition to the police and fire commission. However, the PFC did nothing, it has been said that the ff's are simply whinners.
I do not want to quit but I am concerned for the safety of the members. It is only a matter of time until someone gets hurt or worse. And now I read about the Asst. Chief in NY that is in some major deep stuff.
Anyone got any ideas? Thank you!
I feel for you, it sounds like you've got real problems. Is this police & fire commission your only recourse? Does someone oversee them like a mayor? Is the deparment insured (liability) by the town? If so you may have recourse there if you show a pattern of libelous behavior, politicians understand $$$$.
You spoke of a petition - what did it say? Did it outline specific issues and incidents and behaviors that have created the no confidence situation? Facts, dates, times and names tend to carry more weight since they can be used as documentation later in a hearing, lawsuit etc. Showing lack of compliance with NFPA, training standards, maintenance deficiencies with equipment etc. will help. If the department isn't logging or documenting these events, you should be.
Have you gone public - beyond here - in the media? You may need to if all else fails.
You have a rough situation that you need to address and I commend you for doing so - many people would just walk away or look the other way.
You do need to understand that by posting here there is a good chance that your town (and Chief) will be (or are already) well aware of your posting on them in this national forum. You have just given all of us the information that you are a Captain (Rufer) an electrician with 14 years of service on a Monroe WI fire department. So if they weren't expecting some type of attempt to remove them from office, they will be now - and they may be more defensive.
Thanks for your reply. I know that there is some documentation but am unaware of the extent. The petition did not state specific circumstances or incidents but rather was a general letter of concern asking the PFC to meet with the officers of the department to allow for the expression of some departmental concerns. It was our intent to meet with a minority of the PFC, express some concerns, and work with them to find a plan of action to correct the concerns e.g., requiring the Chief to attend some management classes from the local technical college. It was not our intent to have him immediately dismissed. We felt that if their was a plan put into place that would help him in the tasks of managing the department it would then be putting it into his hands on whether or not he would continue in his position. We wanted to give hime the opportunity to wake up and save his career. We wanted to meet with a minority of the PFC in a nonspecific way because we did not want it to be a formal meeting otherwise it would need to be public and we did not want our dirty laundry out in the papers.
It is tough enough to keep in the good graces of the public at times, we did not want to make it messier than it already was. We also did not want to create public fear or concern about the department and its ability or willingness to respond to alarms. The thought of quiting or not responding NEVER entered our minds or discussions. We are not a bunch of grade school whinners who are pis*** because we can not have our way, we are professionals who just want improve in what we do.
The PFC never met with us, in fact they all but ignored us. The Mayor who oversees the Fire Chief, met with us two maybe three times over a six to nine month period of time. The problem was he made numerous nonspecfic comments as to how he was going to change things but would not go on record as to specific action he was taking. He would not sit with us for a half a day and work on a true plan of action. All he would do was play politician. He made us feel (at least in my opinion) as though we were an inconvience and that he was merely trying to appease us.
I know I went out on a limb by posting here. I gave some thought as to changing my name, rank, ect. or registering again, but I just am not that way. I do not believe in backroom politics. I have not said anything here that I have not said to others openly. I came here for ideas and options for legitimate concerns.
Like you said many would have looked away or brushed it under the carpet. And then when someone gets seriously injured or killed I have to live with the fact that I did not even try to prevent it. No thanks.
I have to say you seem to be approaching it in the right manner. It sounds like you have made excellent efforts to talk to the right people and make constructive suggestions - not attack. That is admirable and it says a lot. Make sure that all of that is documented, including your conversations and whatever the mayor attempted to promise.
Considering the information you've presented I'd have to ask if the same people are on the PFC and if you have the same mayor. Perhaps a history lesson (from your documentation) of steps that have been taken to try to fix the problem will prompt them to more action.
You are right, you don't want to put this in the media if you don't have to for just the reason you stated - fear. It would however, be in your best interest to scare the PFC.
Put all this documentation into a report form with a letter with bullet points on it's contents. Make it clear in the letter that you feel the town could be in for major liability issues should this situation continue. Cite specific examples such as the fire you mentioned. Some of those folks may have interest in some of the businesses that were or could have been affected. Note any specific OSHA or NFPA violations - I know that's nasty, but you are not doing it with the intention of getting someone in trouble, but of making sure people are safe. The freelancing and chaos you described could have gotten someone hurt.
Sometimes politicians have to be hit in the face with things because they become conditioned to everyone thinking their issue is most important and that they deserve the most money. Sometimes they are just ignorant. You need to break through that and appeal to the fear of a lawsuit. Sad but more than likely accurate. Even the ignorant understand that.
One more thing, make sure you copy the town attorney on any documentation you send them. If your report doesn't get their attention - he will.
What should you ask for? Stick with the same routine - training - for the Officers in question and for the department. It sounds like some formal training in ICS at the very least and someone to enforce it are necessary. Continue to ask for constructive things that help solve the problem and you'll get farther than asking for a lynching.
What will they do? Remove the Chief? Maybe. Ignore you? Maybe. Be prepared for whatever - but you are on the right track.