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Random Thoughts on Discipline...

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  • Random Thoughts on Discipline...

    Yes, the Sugar Creek incident prompted me to write this...but it's not specifically about them.

    First, many volunteer fire departments lack progressive discipline systems (including mine!). Most problems can and should be solved by informal, verbal counseling. But written, formal procedures should be in place that make it clear members can receive written reminders/warnings/suspensions/expulsions as appropriate.

    As part of it, there should also be appealate procedures. Most career departments are Unionized and have grievance procedures. Perhaps an outside Board of Review for volunteer expulsions is appropriate -- by outside Board I mine a board of say 3 senior officers from neighboring departments, but not your own. This gives them some impartiality.

    I would also say the "progressive" part doesn't simply mean there is normally a series of more strict discipline; but that a particular punishment may Progress up to the ultimate punishment depending on the circumstances. I don't know the specifics of the Sugar Grove incident other than what's written here. But I'm much more accepting of the expulsion of an ***'t Chief in violation of a direct order than I would be of say, a new Lieutenant who never asked and assumed it was OK to go. Not only does insubordination by a senior officer undermine the Chief's authority more, but there is also a difference in a mistake from not asking first, to deliberately choosing to disobey a direct order.

    Discipline is a two way street, and starts with officer evaluations. While performing job appraisals for all the volunteers may not be practical, at least the officers should formally evaluate themselves each year. Volunteers have the advantage Career officer's don't (unless they want to take a pay cut!) -- and that is Vollies can move up and down the ranks as their life allows. There's no shame in raising a family and not having as much time anymore for the fire department...and hopefully annual evaluations will show that to them before a meeting votes them out!

    I have mixed emotions about elections -- they are probably the best system for accountability, unless very good systems for evaluation and promotion are put in place. Part of a good promotion process would also involve a outside Board of Review who can evaluate candidates outside of the political play of the organization.

    If your organization doesn't operate on a election system where the Chief or other officers aren't reappointed (reelected) annually, there should be a formal procedure that can be initiated to remove a person from office.

    "Just" because you are a volunteer doesn't relieve of the responsibility of being a good and safe firefighter. Effective firefighting and Safe firefighting requires a degree of discipline not common in today's society. We don't need a bunch of power tripping egomaniacs...but at the same time orders must be followed, rules obeyed, and expectations met.

    Fireground orders must be followed, unless it is unsafe for you or another. If the order doesn't make sense...ask for clarification -- you didn't understand it, or you see something the Chief doesn't.

    Non-Fireground rules and regulations should always be followed. If you don't like the Chief's edict, work within the system for changing it -- whether it's the Board of Directors or whatever. Sometimes, you just gonna grin and bear it...either you'll get the regulation changed, or you'll decide it's not worth the aggravation.

    Hopefully these brain droppings are somewhat coherent!

  • #2
    Amen, Dal.

    I agree wholeheartly. Written policy is good. Appeals policy is good. Outside review is good (in moderation). Someone the chief is accountable to is essential (in my old depts. case it was a 3 man committee, 1 was an ex-chief and president of the firefighters association, the other two were 2 of the 5 county commissioners (we were tax funded, but all vol.).

    It's a nice ideal (we had most of it, and worked towards the rest). If you haven't gotten there yet, work towards it. And work with (not against) the system, even when it comes to changing the system.


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