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Discipline in the Volunteer setting

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  • Discipline in the Volunteer setting

    I come to you with this hoping to get some well rounded advise and looking to come up with a solution. I live the best of both worlds, Tailboard trash on a paid department and captain on a volunteer department. To make a long story short my vol. dept has saw 4 Chiefs over the past 5 years. Such a change in leadership has brought a lack of respect for officers and a lack of policies and guidelines. We all know that in this buisiness an emergency does not recognize volunteer or paid status. We provide and are expected to provide a professional service to our jurisdiction regardless. We have been trying to reinstate our policies and procedures but are meeting so much resistance. With new administrations you also get new personnel. Most of our finest are all about gone due to safety and other issues. The few that are left are trying policy writting but they are telling us that there will not be repercussions for not following guidelines. What good are policies with no means of enforcement. i think you all can see where i am going with this. The list goes on.

    Come on Brother and sister Vollies....What are some of the things that work or dont work for you. Means of discipline, Copies of procedures, anything you can come up with.


    [ 08-07-2001: Message edited by: eng16ine ]

  • #2
    Why the high Chief turnover?

    Sounds to me like you guys have a serious leadership problem.

    Some means of enforcing standards is essential. The ultimate enforcement, of course, is termination.

    On our department, the general (broad) requirements for Chief officers are in our By-Laws. The Chief is appointed by the Board (rather than elected by the fire fighters). The Board is elected by the members (subscribing residents) of our fire district.

    The Chief determines the SOPs for the department and also sets the standards for which fire fighters can maintain "active" status (minimum required training during a certain time period, attendance, etc.) The Chief also appoints the Assistant Chief and other officers (we have one Captain and two LTs). These appointments are made based on the Cheif's judgement. (The most highly-trained person we have may not be officer material, for example - there are other considerations, like judgement and maturity.)

    The Chief keeps the Board advised on a monthly basis of any changes in these areas, and there has been no situation so far where the Board has disputed the Chief's judgement).

    The penalty for not meeting the required standards is to be declared "inactive" by the Chief, based on the standards already set forth. "Inactive" means that you turn in your PPE and pager, and you get dropped from our worker's comp and vehicle insurance.

    Inactive firefighters can earn their way back onto the active roster by attending training classes, regular meetings, and work days, but they will not be paged out (no pager) unless they're "active".

    In the 5 years of our existence (same Chief), three people have been declared "inactive", and none of them came back.

    We're a "new" department. Formed five years ago. We had 18 volunteers initially, and only nine one week later. The other nine quit when they discovered more would be required of them than merely showing up when there was a fire.

    We were BETTER OFF with the nine dedicated people. Our roster is back up to 18 now (may be up to 20 very soon), and these 18 people have completed 2800 hours of formal training and have put in many more hours of "sweat-equity" getting our trucks rigged up, fire station built, etc.

    Discipline is essential in this business. Without it, someone is gonna get killed.

    [ 08-07-2001: Message edited by: KillerB ]
    Asst. Chief Bill

    International Order of the Fraternal Brotherhood of the Club

    Somewhere in or near north central Creek County, Oklahoma


    • #3
      The keys to discipline are common sense and fairness. Make sure the rules and regulations are about safety, training and order, not about giving a few power over many.

      You must have rules and they must be enforced. Our policy on rule violations (in general, there are exceptions for serious issues such as violence or gross negligence) is verbal warning, written warning, suspension. After that similar violations can get you a dismissal.

      We document everything to ensure due process and equal application of policies.

      You have to remember they are volunteers, so you can't make things so restrictive they don't want to be around. You can't however, fall into the trap that they should be able to do whatever they want because they are volunteers either.

      Volunteers are unpaid professionals. Therefore we must act that way which means training to the same standards and observing chain of command, ROG's etc. This is all in our best interest because the bottom line is safety. We all want to go home at the end of the night.

      It's tough to get things started when they've been let go for a while, but a wise person once told me that you are better off tightening the reigns to begin with - you can always back off, but you'll have a tough time getting tougher. So while the people in power are still 'new' you need to start the process. Once people gain respect and see that it's not a power trip you can always back off a little.

      Like you stated, the turnover breeds a lack of trust and respect. Whether you caused the problem or not is not the issue. You will still have to make up for it anyway.

      Good Luck!
      Susan Lounsbury
      Winston-Salem Rescue Squad
      Griffith Volunteer FD


      • #4
        Killer B, hope you realize how good you have it there, being at the beginning of your department in such a pretty area. (Only green 'cause I wish I could be a part of it.)

        Eng16: Pretty high turnover rate for Chiefs! Guess the easiest way to make captain at your dept is get elected Chief, huh?

        We had to "get rid" of an eleven member clan that held pretty much all of the leadership positions AND part of the Board. (They are all still members, but somehow, they don't all attend most of the meetings anymore, and only show up at structures! Hmmmm.)
        The points made about not expecting volunteers to comply is a good one, however, nobody puts a gun to your head to MAKE you volunteer. With that in mind, one should be willing/ready to comply and abide by any and all by-laws. You don't have to like the rules, just follow them. At least that's how it is in every dept I've been in, much less the military.

        As far as discipline, then I guess you have see it from the point of view of: Yes, this is your "buddy", and maybe you can cut him a sprout. OR, maybe you can visualize that he is your back-up---can you trust him? I mean, why would they violate any sort of bylaw or policy, and then be expected to do things right at a fire? Just my opinions, but that is what I've seen.
        Take Care.

        [ 08-08-2001: Message edited by: huff317 ]
        Oklahoma Bound!


        • #5
          plain and simple, make the office of cheif a 2 year position and start enforceing disiplanary actions for those who dont follow orders
          ...fire fetish???......
          ...damn right!!!!


          • #6
            real quick let me explain some things that i left out. We dont really have any clicks but we are charged of that by those who refuse to conform. The people that feal the way i do are concerned with safety to great extremes. The problem is that everything that is mentioned is rejected by those who try to say we are trying to make it like a paid dept. which is not our desire. just to better serve and do it SAFELY. The chiefs come and go with the administrations. Pretty frustrating but no promotions have been made other than the chief level. It took me 8 years to make captain. It was not a gimme. Thanks for your help and encourage more responses.

            By the way, the Chief's position is paid and appointed by the chairman of the board of commissioners

            [ 08-08-2001: Message edited by: eng16ine ]


            • #7
              and maybe you can cut him a sprout

              This must be one of those quaint Texas euphemisms that nobody else in the country understands.

              "The stars at night, shine big and bright......."

              eng16ine, I don't know how you're going to accomplish it, but you need some strong, stable, long-term leadership from your Chief and Board. They will have to start plugging the loopholes and require compliance with minimum standards. They need to look at where you are, and figure out where you need to be, and then figure out how to get there, one step at a time. It may take two or three years of focused, concerted effort, but your fire department will be much better for it.

              If your organization is set up where without cause, the firefighters can easily vote out people they don't like, then your organization is flawed, and you're cooked.

              Our By-Laws had some flaws initially. For example, one flaw was that our Board elections were set up where every other year, it was possible to elect a quorum (3/5th of the Board) at one election. The terms were for two years, and two members were elected one year, three the next.

              This resulted in a situation wherein a group of community malcontents (you guys don't have any malcontents in your area, do you?) who were not previously involved in the FD and didn't have a clue what was really going on showed up at the annual meeting and hijacked the Board.

              The new Board members (they were in the MAJORITY, remember) resigned as a group about five months later. My take on it is that they figured out that we REALLY DON'T HAVE ANY FINANCIAL RESOURCES and that keeping the FD going in a progressive direction required a lot more work and creativity on their part than they were willing to produce.

              The By-Laws were changed at the next annual meeting, so now we have five-year terms, and only one Board member is elected each year.

              What this does is makes it possible to change the Board members if a majority of the residents feel the need, but it will take time. No immediate radical changes in direction.

              Every time someone asks me for suggestions on setting up By-Laws, my #1 advice is "Don't set up the Board terms where it's possible to elect a quorum at one election."
              Asst. Chief Bill

              International Order of the Fraternal Brotherhood of the Club

              Somewhere in or near north central Creek County, Oklahoma


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