When It's Time to Move On
Storming out & letting everyone know what you think might feel good, but it could come back to haunt you

By Scott Cook

A month or so ago, I received an e-mail from a friend of mine, one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. I am fortunate to know him, and the guys at his new department are as well. He’s the kind of guy that gets the job done: strong back and a strong mind to go with it.

In the e-mail, my buddy said he was quitting his part-time gig. He laid out the reasons for his quitting in no uncertain terms, if you get my drift. And to him, his reasons were perfectly legitimate.

I don’t begrudge him for quitting; a man’s gotta do what he feels like he’s gotta do, right? The problem came from sending the e-mail itself. It was filled with “reasons,” but no specific examples. And it went to everyone in the company, even the boss—and not by accident. This was his intent.

What Goes Around…
My friend is new in the public safety field. He’s a young guy and he didn’t know that at some point in the future, he’s going to be sitting across from a chief for a new job, or a promotion, and this letter is going to come up. It may be 10 years down the road, but chances are it’s going to happen. As I’ve written about before, the fire/rescue service is too small of a community for it not to.

Somewhere, someday, someone is going to know someone that knows someone and they’ll ask my buddy “Hey, is it true that when you drug up from your old job, you sent a nasty gram about the chief to everyone?” Then the cat’s out of the bag.

It goes without saying that in my 30 years of working, I’ve quit a few jobs, although I’ve been fortunate to never get fired, or even quit right before I did. Quitting a job is one of the easiest and hardest things to do: Relationships get broken, the paycheck stops, and if you don’t already have a job lined up, you’ve got to start looking for a new job right away.

And quitting must be done with subtlety and tact on your part or it will come back to haunt you. I know there are times in the heat of the moment when you want to say to the chief, “To hell with this, I’m outta here!” But you must resist that temptation at all costs, even when it’s clearly warranted.

Put It in Writing

It’s in your best long-term interest to take the high road. First, remove yourself from the immediate situation and get some air. Don’t let your emotions run roughshod over you in front of “the man.”

Second, document EVERYTHING. If you’re thinking about quitting, start a reasons list, and be specific. You don’t have to share it with anyone else, but if you get asked about the reasons you left your last job, you can at least refer back and tell them the pertinent information. (And you can bet, when you’re asked a question in an interview, the interviewer already knows part of the answer. Trust me, it might be illegal for a previous employer to say you’re either eligible or ineligible for rehire, but there are ways that what you thought was secret is going to get out. The only way two people can be sure of keeping a secret is if one of them is dead.)

Give Them Time

Give notice if you’re going to quit. Don’t just walk off unless it’s a legit personal safety issue that cannot be fixed. Leaving your department high and dry negatively affects your buddies. Give them a few weeks to get someone in to replace you. Be sensible about it; put yourself in the chief’s shoes. If you were looking for a new firefighter, would you hire the guy that walked off the last job in a hissy?

Even if you’ve found greener pastures, you should still give the standard 2-week notice, despite the fact that the new department might want you start as soon as possible. If you decide ASAP is the next A-shift, remember that your new chief just watched you walk away from your last department for what you perceived to be a better deal. Don’t make the mistake of thinking he didn’t notice and is wondering when your next “better deal” is coming along.

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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Comment by Mike Sullivan on July 19, 2009 at 1:32pm
Great article Scott, I wanted to share one experience with people. One place I worked at about 10-12 yrs ago would commonly ask in the interview process "If you are hired, how soon would you be willing/able to start ?" Candidates that requested to be able to give a notice recieved additional points in the process, while those who just wanted to start next shift lost points. As you wisely pointed out the person who jumps ship today, will be the same one who will do it to us in the future.
Comment by Ian on July 17, 2009 at 4:17pm
Nice Article Scott! I miss ya buddy! Thanks for everything!
Comment by David Lancaster on July 16, 2009 at 3:44pm
very good article. just experienced this myself

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