Problems in the Station? The Chief Needs to KnowBy Scott Cook
The other day, Fred, a buddy of mine and not his real name, told me he was going to sue his former career fire department because he received an “ineligible for rehire” letter from them after getting nothing but excellent performance reviews since he hired on. I inquired as to why he thought he got the letter. He hesitated for a moment, and then he told me that during his exit interview with the chief and HR he unloaded and told them all the things they were doing wrong.
I asked how he would have felt if during his annual performance review he was told about all the things he did wrong during the year. Well, he said, he wouldn’t like that at all. If he’d been doing things wrong, he should have been told up front.
My position: Fred should have done the same for the chief.
You see, there were a lot of problems at Fred’s station. Practical jokes were regarded as just part of the “station culture”; the new guy was expected to do the crap details. Both of these activities are a part of the station culture, and have been since Benjamin Franklin founded the union fire Company in 1736. And, for the most part, there aren’t any, and shouldn’t be any, issues with either. But, there were other things that in some cases, in my opinion, crossed the line from practical jokes and the new guy “paying his dues” into the area of hazing. In addition, Fred described numerous occasions of crew operational safety issues, none of which had ever been reported.
Fred continued on for some time, and in the end, I concluded there were a couple possible reasons why he received the letter.
Fred made the assumption that the chief knew about everything that was going on at the station and didn’t care. He told me that he felt like the chief should have known these things were going on and done something about them. But Fred doesn’t know for sure the chief was in fact aware.
Maybe the chief and HR were mad about Fred’s unloading on them. Or —and more likely—that by unloading, Fred was in a way confessing to participating in, or at the very least having knowledge of, multiple violations of local, state and federal laws, city policy, SOPs, SOGs, the code of conduct and who knows what else.
Although I do believe the chief should have known about the problems in his station, I don’t know if he did. But put yourself in the chief’s shoes: If you couldn’t trust a firefighter to be open and honest about what was going on in his station, would you recommend him for rehire?Scott Cook is the former chief of the Granbury (Texas) Volunteer Fire Department and a fire service instructor. He’s also a member of
FireRescue’s editorial board
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