Discipline…..some thoughts

This week I am going to comment about discipline on a couple of levels. I am noticing a lack of discipline in many areas of the fire service and I hope we can shed some light upon them here.

I will make a bold statement that the lack of discipline is a significant factor in many of our injuries and deaths.

Discipline is an unpleasant thing for certain, especially when it applies to us!

In speaking to others in person and through e-mail, I am finding that this is not a “city” problem, or a labor management problem, but it in fact applies to the smallest rural volunteer fire departments across America. The situation in the city might be, “If I discipline FF. Smith, then I will get a grievance or have a union issue”, to the rural department that says” You can’t discipline me, “cause I am only a volunteer and I will leave!”

Lets look at some areas of discipline.

Personal Discipline

If we are going to speak about discipline, let’s look at the very root of the issue…..ourselves.

Personal discipline is closely tied to integrity. Integrity is what you do when nobody is looking.

When everyone is sitting down having coffee in the morning, do you get up from the table and check your mask and radio and equipment, or do you just sit with “the rest of the guys”

What about diet and exercise? Can you stay healthy and fit to do your job, or are you just OK doing what you are doing?

What about facing any unpleasant tasks that you may have either on the job or personally? Do you let those slip by because you would rather not deal with them?

What about your personal level of training? Is your training level up to the standard that you want it to be? Do you continue to push and pursue all training opportunities?

Personal discipline is about setting a proper example for others through your own actions. Personal discipline is about accepting your personal responsibility for the consequences that have occurred from your actions. Though, in the fire service there may be many issues beyond our control, let’s not begin by always pointing to something else being the problem, let us take a hard internal look.

Company or Supervisor Discipline

If you are a company officer do you hold your people accountable for their actions or is that too difficult for you to face your personnel? Maybe they will get angry and quit if they are volunteer or on-call, and you can’t afford to lose any more people.

Make people do their job and follow rules and regulations. It is your responsibility to enforce policies and procedures and if you do not or are unwilling then maybe you should not be in that position.

If your personnel have made an error and you have not corrected, coached, trained and disciplined them accordingly, then you should then be disciplined. Be prepared to accept it and not deflect blame onto someone, or something else.

Chief Officer Discipline

If you have departmental Sops and general orders that are currently not being followed and you are aware of it, then you should be disciplined. Don’t be so far removed that you no longer know what is going on in the streets. Many officers have subscribed to the theory that the personnel should not be micro-managed so I should leave them alone. You are about half right…..don’t micro-manage your personnel unless they need it. That’s right, unless they need it. If your personnel are not wearing their gear properly, then you need to correct that behavior, or even discipline your personnel as to why. If there is an order for daily training to be conducted and you know it is a joke and only being done on paper and in reports then you should address that and correct.

Hiding behind your chief’s badge and failing to provide corrective coaching discipline is a failure.

Discipline is about correcting behavior. It is about coaching, corrective actions, and if all else fails some punishing action in last resort cases.

Discipline starts with us.

Pete Lamb
Copyright 2013