Ricci Pushes 'Political Courage' at FDIC

Frank Ricci is making a name for himself in the fire service for lots of reasons, and that now includes a provocative keynote speech at the Fire Department Instructors Conference (FDIC).

"They spend so much time trying to keep their jobs, they forget to do it," Ricci said, noting that it's time for chiefs to "get off the back of the milk carton and show your faces" in the station. He said they should let the troops in the station know they care and are not playing politics with them.

"While it is critical for chiefs to understand politics, please understand that you are not a politician," Ricci said. Chiefs need to support their officers, back them up, make sure they have the right tools to do their jobs and "work with City Hall and sometimes fight them."

Chiefs also need to be held accountable on the grounds that they need to treat everyone equal. Chiefs must also hold their subordinates accountable too.

"The first horsemen, lack of accountability, will cause more deaths than any others if our chief officers continue to fall prey to the status quo," Ricci said.

The two middle horsemen, loss of faith and indifference, "always ride together," Ricci said.

Departments that open the door to the loss of faith and indifference, "they strike back at the very spirit of who we are," Ricci said, likening them to a cancer that eats at the passion of firefighters as well as the spirit.

"You've worked hard, you've sacrificed, only to find out that the light at the end of the tunnel was a freight train," Ricci said. "…When my department scuttled the promotional exam, we were all devastated."

But Ricci said he didn't let it break his spirit. To combat the negativity, Ricci said he was honored to accept the chief's invitation to teach the recruit class when others in his department were questioning why he would agree to that when the department had acted egregiously.

His rationale lies within the premise that City Hall and the mayor are likely not to care if you haven't cleaned your tools, or haven't trained sufficiently or the new recruit doesn't know anything about firefighting.

"Does anyone think the mayor would care if the new guy couldn't force a door or take a hydrant," Ricci said. "I told them all that at the end of the day, [the new guys] will be the ones crawling down that hot hall with us and our lives may depend on their actions."

The fourth Horseman, according to Ricci, is politics over merit.

"Almost all of our urban centers have been affected," Ricci said. "It has been aided by the 'Good Ole Boy' network, politics as usual as well as our own justice department.

In 52 B.C., the Chinese were the first to have civil service laws with the simple premise that "merit must trump all other considerations," he said. "You would think in those thousands of years, society would learn to keep politics out of it," Ricci said.

Given the rigors of the fire service and its complexities, decisions on hiring should not be political, he said, noting that the wrong decision can result in loss of personal property, injury and even death.

Rules need to be applied fairly and equally, he said.

"If politics, nepotism, cronyism, racism or discrimination sneaks in, then we owe it to each other to root it out," Ricci said. "…Does the color of one's skin, sex or heritage make someone a better firefighter," Ricci said. "Of course not."

Ricci said he does not think the public is thinking about, or cares, about the race of the firefighter. What the public wants is someone who can get there quickly, act professionally on the scene and be competent.

"Achievement is neither limited to, or determined by, one's race or politics, but it is determined by one's skills, dedication, commitment and character."

Ricci said firefighting jobs cannot be handed out without regard for merit or qualification.

"While equal opportunity must be guaranteed for all, it does not guarantee equal outcome," Ricci said. "The point is, merit matters."