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Does Mediocrity Overcome Common Sense?

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  • Does Mediocrity Overcome Common Sense?

    My Fellow Brothers and Sisters:
    I've been following this forum for the past four years. I've learned much from everyone who has posted. However, I've finally come to the point that I had to vent and get some feedback from my fellow brothers and sisters.
    I've been a volunteer firefighter for five years. In that time, I've had the honor of being part of a professional group of volunteers. That was the first department to which I belonged. They had bylaws they adhered to, S.O.P's they followed to the letter, and officers who spoke with authority and professionalism. As happens in life, I met the love of my life, got married and moved to a new community. I applied and was accepted onto their department. However, I noticed that things were different from my first department. There was alcohol in the station, no training required when you obtained your gear, no S.O.P's in place, and no training records kept. I found this a bit odd, but considering that I'm the probie, I kept my peace. I did ask questions, and seek information. As is the custom in the fire service. I usually got the answer, "This is the way we do it and have always done it". I guess tradition is considered important. I noticed no PASS devices on turnouts or on SCBA's. Of course, I asked about that. "Why would we need them?" O.k....well, fast forward two years. We've got a training officer, PASS devices just came in, new helmets, and a new thermal imaging camera. But poor morale in the department. Due to the furor caused in Elgin, Iowa regarding alcohol in the department, the department voted to remove it from the station. Well, there were less people coming to calls than before, the department split into cliques, and a war was on. No leadership from the officers, well...almost none. The decision was made six months later to bring the beer back. Amazingly, morale didn't improve (go figure ). Call attendance was still down, and the complaining was hitting a major high note. A decision was made to form a committee and reevaluate and make additions to the bylaws. Every member received a copy of the bylaws (the first copy many members had ever seen ). Each member was to make any suggestions about any area that they felt needed changed, the committee would meet, tally the suggestions, and present them to the rank and file membership. Well, the meeting was tonight, and I'm so mad I could just spit! Any reference to accountability for attending calls, meetings, or training nights was thrown out completely. "Too unfair. I'm a volunteer and they can't make me attend calls, meetings, or training." No initial training for new probationary members. "We'll teach them on the job. We won't put them at risk." O.k....perhaps I'm over-reacting. Perhaps I'm unrealistic. When I filled out an application for membership, I agreed to come to all calls I possibly could (unless I was at work), attend all meetings and training nights, and attend all work parties. I agreed to take Firefighter I to learn how to be a better, safer firefighter (I started to take it at my old department but left before I finished the course. I did complete my structural firefighting course at Texas A&M. I'm currently FFI certified now and getting ready for my FFII exam). Now, am I crazy? No initial training for probationary firefighters? Does your department function that way? Do you train your firefighters "on the job"? Do you just hand them their gear and an airpack and say "O.k...Have at it!" when you arrive on scene? Most of our guys don't know how the new PASS devices operate (and according to them, they're "experienced firefighters"). I found myself speaking out against throwing out the clause on attendance and on not offering some initial training to new, probationary firefighters on their PPE, fire ground operations, and SCBA's. However, it seemed that no matter what I said, it was met with an attitude of scorn and derision.
    O.k...o.k...perhaps I expected more support from my fellow firefighters. We do have a few who are more progressive in thought and think that there is a better way of doing things. At least that's what they talk about after the calls are complete. Talk about being disappointed! I guess it was just talk. I felt as though I'd taken a bunch of hits and punches by the end of the meeting with no support. The department voted, and that's the way it is. So...I'm left with wondering where I go from here. I love being a firefighter, serving my community, and helping others. However, I don't like to see the way the department is headed. I know that our reputation in the community had gotten better when it was learned that the alcohol had been removed from the station. I wasn't surprised to learn that it started to head back down when the alcohol was voted back in. I guess I want to be considered a part of a "professional" group of individuals. Those that consider the safety of each other and that of the community to be of the utmost importance. I don't really want to be considered a part of a "boy's club" who get together to drink on meeting nights and who respond to calls drunk. So....I'm asking for your thoughts on this subject. Have you ever faced this same type of issue? How did you handle it? I guess I've got a couple of options: 1) To quit; 2) To let it go, accept the status quo, and get along; 3) To keep working to make the department, and my brother firefighters, safer. The only person I can manage is myself. But...I can set a good example and maybe a couple of folks will see how it works and try it themselves. I apologize if this comes of as a "whine". I didn't mean it to be. I hit rock bottom tonight and was so frustrated I could just spit! Any thoughts and ideas would be appreciated....

  • #2
    I completely understand your frustration. We are a small volley dept, and face several of the same challenges.

    A little over Five years ago, I found myself challenging the status quo and fighting an uphill battle for change in our "seat of the pants" dept. After enough hounding (I'm a firm believer in "The squeaky wheel gets the grease"), the Chief finally said "Fine, you want it, you do it", and made me a Captain. Well, after rallying some support, and many hours of hard work later, we now finally have SOG's, Training Programs (Records too), and Standards for Officers and Firefighters. I've been the Deputy Chief for 2 years, and now have an excellent core of hard working Officers and Senior FF's helping me out. But it didn't come after one meeting. We still have work to do, but we are making steady progress. My next project is formally certifying my entire crew to FF 1 and 2.

    The best thing I can tell you is, DON'T QUIT! No situation was ever made better when the good guys left. Persevere, and do your best to show the new guys the way. Eventually they/you will be in a position to actually make a difference. Don't let them or yourself be placed in a dangerous situation, regardless of the outcome politically. And finally, rally support where you can, and hound the powers that be as much as you can without getting tossed (power comes in numbers).

    Don't lose heart. You will feel worse for not having tried, than for having tried and failed.
    Never argue with an Idiot. They drag you down to their level, and then beat you with experience!



    • #3

      Keep, don't quit, if you can.
      Your situation is very common here. I had a similar problem (on a larger scale) and after many years of tries and delusions I let it go - no more energy left, and other personal problems - .
      Things went worse, for me, for others and for service. The only useful thing was that one or two guys understood that maybe things could be better.
      Tradition should be a resource, not a load. And change to better is a good tradition.
      Now I am trying again, thanks also to some new guys, and step by step we are improving.

      I agree with mcaldwell, and envy his determination and the opportunity his chief gave him.

      Thank you all, your experiences are very useful to me, too.


      • #4
        Random thoughts:

        1. Check with your state regulatory agencies and find out if this FD is violating any regulations by not providing the proper PPE and/or training. In a very elementary sense, OSHA does not let you use PPE that you have not been trained to use. They also do not let FD's operate without things like repiratory protection plans, operational plans, etc. If your state is not an OSHA state, check with the powers that be at the state level. You may be preventing a tragedy by bringing this situation to the forefront.

        2. The "I'm only a volunteer" cry is a cancer. It prevents accountability and is an excuse for mediocrity. It allows a FD to do things that would not be acceptable in a professional environment.

        3. This is 2003. I believe that people want to volunteer their time. But, for the most part, they don't want to waste their time. They want to belong to a professional organization. By raising the standards and raising the level of professionalism in your FD, you will increase the membership and the morale. The "beer issue" is a great example. People's perception of the FD is based on what they see. If they see a station where people are working and training and generally "acting" like FF, that is what they percieve. If they see a bunch of drunken slobs, hanging out at the bar, or at parades with their hats on backwards, etc., that is what they perceive. Volunteering time is limited these days. People will volunteer for a good cause. My FD has 3 eng., 1 truck, 1 rescue covering 2 sq, miles of suburban/urban area with about 10,000 people. We have about 150 membersm with about 70 of them "active". A car fire in the middle of the day will turn out 30 guys. The town identifies with having a top notch FD. Why? These guys are good and have pride and act and behave like professionals. It's contagious.

        4. Challenging the status quo and "traditions" is a hard thing that many, many people will resist. Especially people who benefit under the old system. (By benefit I don't mean financially, I mean by having no accountability). I can think of many changes that were made in my own FD where people fought tooth and nail against them. When you boiled the argument against the changes down, they were devoid of fact and were based on ignorance and a fear of change.

        5. Most of the guys in your FD feel the same way you do. But they are probably afraid to buck tradition. Be a leader. You don't have to be an officer to be a leader. Also, be consistently professional. Don't give the dinosaurs any ammo to attack you with. Don't let the mutts get you down.


        • #5
          Welcome to my world

          Except for the alcohol, it sounds like we are at the same department.
          I have been fighting the "thats the way we always have done it" and the "good ole boy" system for the last year.
          If you read my posts on standard flows, I consider that a huge win in a losing war.
          Heres my delema.
          1.Lack of leadership. Officers would rather be firefighters than act like officers.
          2.No command presence. No officer will establish a command
          3.Lack of motivation. Except for a few members, half of the department does not show up for monthly meetings or trainings. Out of the other half that may show up, a handful will walk out before the meeting or training is over.
          4. Lack of pride. Just come by the station some time....

          5. Failure to enforce department rules and regulations.
          6.Lack of training and lack of desire to train.
          This department is ready to self destruct. Luckly, we have a few dedicated firefighters and 2 junior officers that are fighting hard to make some changes. We are not happy with the "status quo" and are fighting hard to make the changes necessary to bring this department up to speed.
          Dont mis read this post as me dumping on my department, There are some good people with potential that just needs to be brought out. Its just going to take some high level change to bring that potential out.


          • #6
            Hang in there. The old adage of "two hundred years of tradition without progress of any kind" can not be changed overnight.

            Over the years I have known departments that are a carbon copy of your situation. I knew one "chief" who would throw all announcemnts for training in the trash because he did not want anyone to know more than he did and he had taken a basic forty hour firefighter course so that was all you needed to know. The were proud of having never lost a foundation but almost lost a few of them.

            Take whatever training opportunities you can and keep your own records. Work with those who want to see progress and it will eventually come. You will probably pick up support as the members see improvement. I hope that your department does not have to go through a tragic incident resulting in serious injury or loss of life before change comes.

            Change has traditionally come slowly to the fire service but it will happen.

            Stay Safe


            • #7
              Thanks for your support...

              My Fellow Brothers:
              Thank you for your words of encouragement. As I wrote those words last night, I felt as if I was fighting a losing battle. My wife, God Bless her, listened as I vented last night. She understands my frustration and feels sorry that she can't help me more.
              I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me on this issue. I'm not going to quit. I'm going to stay right in there and work to make a difference. I do know that there are others on my department who feel as I do, however, they feel powerless against the dinosaurs. I don't know how to go about encouraging others to voice their thoughts and to do things the right way.
              It's nice to know that there are others out there who have fought, or are fighting, the same issues. To be honest, I'd like to get to the point that our department resembles George's department. A professional organization who are respected by the community. It will take a lot of work to get there, I know. In some ways, I feel as though me asking questions has made a difference. We now have PASS devices, a thermal imaging camera, and twenty-two members took the Firefighter I course (only sixteen passed). That's not too bad for a start. Now...we need more training in fireground ops, confined space, and extracation.
              In regards to attendance at calls and meetings, I'll continue to do my part and to set a good example. I'm not for sure as to how to proceed with this clause being completely removed from the bylaws, but time will tell.
              Thank you for listening and responding. I'm proud to be a part of the Fire Service Brotherhood.


              • #8
                your case sounds like my department when i rejoined it about 4 years ago. myself and some others that joined after me wanted changes. we were patient and kept working at changing things slowly. nothing happens overnight. we won by doing heavy recruiting and getting the recruits to be progressive (i hate that word at times) and not being held back by some traditions. things have changed and for the better. just hang in there and be patient. don't quit. and be joyful that you have a wife that understands.
                NREMT-P\ Reserve Volunteer Firefighter\Reserve Police Officer
                IACOJ Attack

                Experts built the Titanic, amateurs built the Ark.


                • #9
                  It seems like many departments are facing the same issues that you are. Mine does but on a smaller scale.

                  Don't quit. Your previous department didn't get to where it was without people such as yourself. Be an example for others especially the probies. If the department won't have organized training for new recruits, set it up yourself and teach them.

                  My department does not have a written rule on how many calls you have to make. When the monthly attendance sheet is posted, anyone under 20% gets highlighted. Then they get their [email protected] busted by the rest of the members. Peer pressure is stronger than anything the officers could do.

                  Remember, Rome wasn't built in a day. Have patience.

                  My final suggestion is to print out this article and post it in the station, it might get a few people thinking.


                  • #10
                    i know how u feel,our monthly meetings are more or less just to get together and gossip about people,training is non existant.our cheif just kicked my best friend off for not attending the meeting because its mandatory we make one out of 3 meetings.i have no complaints with that rule if we were actually training but at the same time ive been on the dept for 5 yrs and we have members on our firedept that ive never seen at a fire,atleast my friend went on the fires.im the only one with any kind of training im a ff1 and emt-b attending emt-i class. we dont even have any firstresponders and most arent even trained in cpr,out of 16 people on our dept we more or less have 4 of us that actually go out and fight fire unless its a call that might make the news or paper and then the glory seekers show up in force.i would stick around if i were u,because u may or maynot make a difference in your dept by changing things but u might make a big difference on scene by saving someones life.


                    • #11
                      Been there; done that!

                      You took the scenic route to get to this:
                      I guess I've got a couple of options: 1) To quit; 2) To let it go, accept the status quo, and get along; 3) To keep working to make the department, and my brother firefighters, safer.
                      Number 1 would be easy. Number 2 would be easier and very regrettable. I vote for option number 3. But, because you had the pleasure of belonging to a very good fire department before your current situation, you knew it was option number 3 all along. You are going to have to use some finesse. You are going to have to maintain your composure. You are going to have to answer the questions again and again. You are going to have to step up to the plate when challenged. You will have to meet the challenge. You will succeed. It will not be today or even tomorrow. But you have the guts to do this and you and your department will be better for it. You got some very good suggestions from some crusty old jakes. George, Vollie and Ray are solid as rocks and know from whence they speak.
                      I would only suggest that you DO NOT post this at your fire station to "show the others". Fire departments have this thing about the airing of their dirty laundry in public.
                      You and many like you will make this fire service a much better fire service. You will help it reach it's true potential. You will make the difference that everyone talks about so much. You know that you cannot talk your department into becoming a better department. You will have to show them, teach them and challenge them into becoming better. It won't be easy, but who said that it would be?
                      You can always use the resources of the IACOJ. They will be glad to help. You have heard from four of us.
                      Good luck on your journey.
                      Visit www.iacoj.com
                      Remember Bradley Golden (9/25/01)
                      RIP HOF Robert J. Compton(ENG6511)


                      • #12

                        Chief Reason has again proved why he is, well....Chief Reason!

                        Most here have posted very good advise. Listen to them. I agree with Chief Reason in that posting this thread will be counter productive. Although, there may already be some in your department that have already seen this thread and put two and two together.

                        If you live and pay taxes/donate to the department that protects your home, quiting isn't really an option now is it? You frequently can't be an agent of change from the outside.

                        Living with poor performance and the resultant poor opinion from the public, isn't an option either. What if the fire is in your home and it's your life or the life of a loved one in danger?

                        Therefore you have chosen the only option that really makes a difference to you, right?

                        Can I suggest that the "truth shall set you free". Read everything that you can get you hands on, go to as many trainings as you can before that first child comes(because when it does, things will be different), certify to as many levels as possible, and become an instructor. Before you know it, others including the officers will be coming to you for your knowledge and ability to deliver programs/training sessions that will educate, enlighten and entertain the troops.

                        You will then be a leader because if nothing else, your knowledge will make you the EXPERT.(Expert Power)

                        One last thing. No matter what others say or do to you treat them always with respect and dignity. Just the way that you would wish to be treated by others. Don't argue over simple or stupid things, that don't have any impact on the "mission". State you message, without harsh or vulgar words and let the other side show their ignorance. Before you know it you might just be in the "drivers seat".

                        Good luck.


                        • #13
                          One thing I have noticed about American fire departments is the way they seem so fragmented. In Australia there are only 12 fire departments, in 2 states there are only 1. These have a large number of brigades in each department. Each service has dedicated training, prevention, technical services, communications-you name it they have a section to cater for it! Big plus that my department has is what we call volunteer suport officers, we have six available in this state. They are specifically for situations that you are involved in, if a brigade is not performing or having morale problems they will come in, work with the members and find a solution.
                          Just for your interest, we don't let any new member on the fireground until they have completed a basic firefighters course. This enables them to perform defensive structural attack and rural firefighting. After 12 months they are allowed to do an SCBA course, and depending on what clasification your brigade is, they can do hazmat and road crash rescue. The only non-government emergency services are the industrial companies, they are only allowed to do the immediate area around there complex unless an agreement is signed to allow them to respond elsewhere, even then we provide the training for them so we are totally comfortable with working with them and we get on really well.
                          We did have individual brigades many years ago but for the last fifty years we have been 1 service, some didn't like the idea but they soon closed because they couldn't meet the minimum standards.
                          Another point is the age limit on equipment, appliances must be retired at 20 yrs unless they pass a strict mechanical test which will only allow a 5 yr extension.

                          This may not help you much but I just thought I would share this info with you, unity and enforced minimum standards make for a better service, you soon sought out the people that don't really want to be there, keep your chin up and try to help those others that believe in the future and in improving your department.

                          Good luck mate!!


                          • #14
                            This may sound morbid, but Its good to know "I'm not alone". I have been a member of my fire department for 10 years, and 3 chiefs. Each had their strengths and weakneses, but the end result has been the same--"Settling for Mediocrity". Our service is a fire only service, with the EMS run by a municipal 3rd service. The demeanor at both departments is night and day. As a matter of fact, I have had more and more firefighters cross over and join my department (I am the Chief of the EMS service). I see a new group of dedicated people surfacing--and I would hate to see them fall into the same trap.

                            During my career, I have had the opportunity to work for several other agencies. Simple fact--"there is always something worse".
                            In this time I realized something. Our terminology in the fire service is as traditional as anything. Volunteer: One who dedicates time. Professional: One who works and gets paid; an attitude. Career: Ones chosen profession. HMMM...is there a corolation? Yes. We are volunteers, because we dedicate time. We are professionals because we get paid (most at least a token to cover worker's comp), and we have an attitude necessary to complete a task. And...We are Career Firefighters because this is a career that one must choose to do. No one is forced or coherced into it.
                            Therefore we can say we are Career firefighters. Now, is this any different than a full time department? It shouldn't be! The question is how to convey this Attitude to your fellow firefighters.

                            You are on the right track by not quitting. That is letting the mediocraty win. however depressing it may be at times, we need to continue to push for excellence. One must make every effort to cause change. Simple things as cleaning after yourself at the station...to saying thank you to the citizens you are serving (at least a compassionate ear during their time of need)...to attending extra training. Please don't allow the politics to interfere with your duty. There is a political strain on my department and the FD that dates back as far as anyone can remember...but no one knows what it's about. some tradition! We also have dificulty with the aditional training...People who go out and get it...aren't allowed to share it.

                            Sorry to vent back at you, but...
                            Anyway, continue on. Be the voice of reason in your department. Eventually things will change for the better...the citizens of your community will expect it.


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