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Let's Talk Fire: Ethics and the Volunteer Fire Service

Updated on December 16, 2016

Ethics Matter

How we are seen is how we will be remembered!
How we are seen is how we will be remembered!

Ethics You Say?

As firefighters we are often looked at with prying eyes. People seem to expect more from us and usually hold us in higher regards than they would the everyday run of the mill average Joe. I am in no position to dictate whether or not that higher standard is justified or not but I do know without a shadow of a doubt that we can damage that standard if we are not real careful about our actions and behaviors. Being under such scrutiny means we need to be aware of how we act, and what we do at all times. We represent ourselves, but on a bigger scale our department and on the major scale the fire service as a whole.

As people we should always strive to act and behave ethically. As firefighters we must do so at an even deeper level. Websters defines ethics as simply rules of behavior based on ideas about what is good and bad. Sounds simple enough but still firefighters and departments are skirting over ethical practices for the easy way out. We all know fairly well how a question of ethics can cripple a department in no time. The fire service has been placed on a very high pedestal and we need to do what we can to make sure we are still deserving of that spot.

This is what we should be doing!

The code of ethics was adapted to better prepare us as firefighters for how we needed to act and present ourselves.

Code Of Ethics

Fire Fighter Code of Ethics I understand that I have the responsibility to conduct myself in a manner that reflects proper ethical behavior and integrity. In so doing, I will help foster a continuing positive public perception of the fire service. Therefore, I pledge the following ……. • Always conduct myself, on and off duty, in a manner that reflects positively on myself, my department and the fire service in general.

• Accept responsibility for my actions and for the consequences of my actions.

• Support the concept of fairness and the value of diverse thoughts and opinions.

• Avoid situations that would adversely affect the credibility or public perception of the fire service profession.

• Be truthful and honest at all times and report instances of cheating or other dishonest acts that compromise the integrity of the fire service.

• Conduct my personal affairs in a manner that does not improperly influence the performance of my duties, or bring discredit to my organization.

• Be respectful and conscious of each member’s safety and welfare.

• Recognize that I serve in a position of public trust that requires stewardship in the honest and efficient use of publicly owned resources, including uniforms, facilities, vehicles and equipment and that these are protected from misuse and theft.

• Exercise professionalism, competence, respect and loyalty in the performance of my duties and use information, confidential or otherwise, gained by virtue of my position, only to benefit those I am entrusted to serve.

• Avoid financial investments, outside employment, outside business interests or activities that conflict with or are enhanced by my official position or have the potential to create the perception of impropriety.

• Never propose or accept personal rewards, special privileges, benefits, advancement, honors or gifts that may create a conflict of interest, or the appearance thereof.

• Never engage in activities involving alcohol or other substance use or abuse that can impair my mental state or the performance of my duties and compromise safety.

• Never discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, creed, age, marital status, national origin, ancestry, gender, sexual preference, medical condition or handicap.

• Never harass, intimidate or threaten fellow members of the service or the public and stop or report the actions of other firefighters who engage in such behaviors.

• Responsibly use social networking, electronic communications, or other media technology opportunities in a manner that does not discredit, dishonor or embarrass my organization, the fire service and the public. I also understand that failure to resolve or report inappropriate use of this media equates to condoning this behavior.

Table Top Discussion

This training will advance decision making skills and weed out those who are not meant to be placed in leadership roles.
This training will advance decision making skills and weed out those who are not meant to be placed in leadership roles.

The Code In Action

Table Top Time

As firefighters we need to be constantly mindful of our actions. Look at every choice and ask yourself is what I am doing ethical? If it is not than readjust how you handle the problem. I like to call this frame of thinking ethical situational awareness. Sadly to many of our brothers and sisters are standing on the fence in regards to how to ethically approach a situation and even more troubling how to deal with and make decisions that reflect morale correctness. Some of these individuals are just not taught how we should do things while others have a morale compass that points directly to derp. It is essential and vital to approach every situation that is demanding of a decision from an ethical stance and embrace the problem from a "what is the right way" angle.

Sure taking the path that is right as opposed to the one that is easy can be trying and down right stressful to say the very least. But, if we are to succeed we need to always do the right thing. What follows are some commonly encountered situations that I have discussed with several firefighters on the Let's Talk Fire Facebook page and they are presented here for the purpose of being used as table top discussions with your department. While we will look at and explore options for both the easy way out and the ethical one ultimately the choice you make is dependant on you.

These scenarios will assist you in determining just how qualified your staff is to make ethical decisions and judgements.


Being a woman does not mean you can not do what a man can do! Before you approach this question of ethics educate yourself on women and the roles they play in the fire service.
Being a woman does not mean you can not do what a man can do! Before you approach this question of ethics educate yourself on women and the roles they play in the fire service.

Scenario 1- To Fit In Or Not To Fit In?

You have been at the Macho Man Fire Department for a few months now but no matter what you seem to do you just don't seem to fit in. You work hard and you get the job done but still have not managed to make a connection with anyone on the staff. One day you are changing the oil in the chief SUV when you see three firefighters harassing the only female firefighter on the shift.

One of them is Captain Better Than You and the other two are Firefighter Knows It All and Mr. Suck Up. These three are for some unforeseen reason high up on the chief's like list. They are saying hurtful things like "why don't you put down that rag and get in there and start dinner like you are supposed to do" and "Aren't you afraid you will break a nail?".

It is obvious the female is very upset with this and she storms off while the taunts continue from the three superstars of the department. You get nervous as they approach you.

"So probie, what you think of a girl firefighter? Thinks she can play with the men!"

Now you have a delimna. An ethically driven situation has just dropped in your lap. These three abrasive personalities are now right there in your face wanting to see how you will address what they just did.

Sure you can join in with them and taunt the young lady. Heck by now she is used to it, but really are you not becoming a huge part of the problem in doing so? If you don't join in these three brain cell sharing morons are probably going to rag on you and that will further complicate your matter of fitting in with the staff here at the department. Seems like you have a problem doesn't it?

How you approach this is up to you but remember the pros and cons. You could join in and go right along with hazing this young lady and gain that acceptance you have so much been wanting or you can stand up for the girl and go to the higher ranking officer and file a report. As I said this is a discussion you can engage in and see how your staff stands in making those critical decisions.

Educate yourself!

(Above Video)

How would an untrained firefighter open a locked door? Would the skills be present and just show themselves or would you be looking at a really bad day because someone simply signed a roster?

Prepare and prevent disaster!

How many line of duty deaths would have been prevented by simply requiring training?
How many line of duty deaths would have been prevented by simply requiring training?

Scenario 2- Slackers Get Left Behind

You are an officer on your department and the chief approaches you and the training officer to discuss a problem. The end of the year is approaching and several of your crew have not met the annual requirement for training hours. These requirements dictate the amount of federal and state funding your department may receive the next year. Your department has been lax on setting standards for how many training sessions a firefighter could miss and now the results have proven disastrous for you.

The training officer reports that one of the members of the department is an instructor and has offered to teach classes to catch up. At first this seems a great idea and a fair solution to a very demanding problem but than you discover he has not got a great deal of time so he will teach a 30 minute class twice a week but people attending will get credit for 3 hours. That should get everyone caught back up.

Than you discover the days he can teach conflict with schedules and several members who are lacking in hours can not be there so the idea is brought up that as long as they sign the training roster sign in sheet before it is entered into the system you will get full credit.

Now we see an ethical tornado waiting to topple a bunch of really hard working firefighters! Sure you will redeem those prestigious hours and save some of that sweet government funding but what will you lose? How about integrity, desire to do good and every aspect of the firefighter code of ethics!

Let's tackle this from both ends.

Taking the easy way out gets everyone caught up so you don't lose staff at the end of the year to a inactive list and it keeps those dead president flashcards coming in to pay for expenses. The department looks good in the eyes of the state because we have all our staff fully cooperative with state fire training regulations. Or at least we do on paper.

On the other hand you alienate the firefighters who actually gave a damn and showed up to get their hours. These cats will not be pleased with little Bobby nobody getting a free ride on the lazy train while they were out there busting their ass. I hate to be so blunt but let's face the cold hard truth here! You also get a crew of firefighters who show up at scenes and attempt to do what we are trained to do, but oh yeah, they were not trained to do it, they simply signed a paper. How will that look on an LODD report Mr. Know It All.

I now leave this in your hands and I will say when I had received several complaints about this practice it blew my mind. I am from an older school approach I guess were we gain as much training knowledge as we can and we learn to fight the beast on a broader level, but so many departments have come forward and shown that more often than not the easy way out is the chosen method. Makes you wonder how many dead firefighters just signed rosters and did not put in the needed training. Again this falls on leadership people!

What would you do?

Scenario 3- Public Encounters of the Bad Kind

It has been a long week and you are paged to a structure fire in a very risky part of town. Upon arriving you begin your size-up and are met by the man who lives next door to the burn building. He instantly starts yelling at you because he feels his house is in danger and you need to be protecting it.

"That one is gone you idiot put water on my property I pay your salary!" Soon his words get more and more harsh and he is now on scene and in your face demanding you stop action on the structure and focus on his home which is far enough away that there is really no threat of it becoming a part of the fire at this time.

He begins getting nose to noe with you and other neighbors have now come into view and are watching this scene unfold when suddenly Mr. Grump shoves you.

You now have a very trying and stressful decision to make. Remember how I mentioned that pedestal that we get put on? Well now you seem to have been shoved off it and are face to face with a bad day in disguise as a moron in a robe! You could retaliate and strike this man but what will that do? Media and witnesses who like the gentleman are going to side with him and there is a world of bad publicity for your department. You could walk away but the boys are going to rib you a new one when you get back to the station.

How you act here is very important. I would recommend a very deep conversation on this scene my friends.

Study Up. Make sure you are right.

Scenario 4- Buddy System Used Wrong

Our last table top discussion is going to focus on my least favorite of the leadership sins contributed to the fire service, favoritism. That is right it still runs as wild as Hogan in his red and yellow days and is just as hard to watch!

You are a hard working firefighter and have hit every benchmark put before you. The time has come for promotion and you are excited because it is down to you and the guy who never contributes anything but a smell to the fire station. While awaiting the results you prepare a small acceptance speech and are all ready to start shaking hands when the announcement is made that Lumpy McUseless has been promoted above you. What the hell you say, well guess what it happens and happens far more often than anyone would care to really touch base on.

The issue arrises from leadership positions who instead of seeing firefighters for what they can do and who they are they put on the friendship goggles and make their decisions based on that factor. It is not exclusive to the fire service. Think Monica and Bill, but just like that sick scenario it sucks when a qualified individual is overlooked for a friend of the upper echelon.

The real issue regarding you now is how do you handle this? Do you throw a fit and bash the chief's desk in with a broom or do you seek out another way to handle the affair without resorting to crazy destruction and the kidnapping of small cats. (What? You thought about it!)

Here is where you have to make a decision on what to do and how to do it. I would advise toy understand most chiefs have people they answer to as well. Again this is a tricky topic and one that will often go the way of fire with fire in an unethical attack will be made toward the person who made the unethical decision. You can not fight fire with fire my friends, you just burn down the house that way. So what do you do?

In Closing

Let's Talk Fire can be found on Facebook!

We encourage you to join in on discussions and take part in the ongoing debates. Remember we learn from the past for survival in the future.


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