This is a post that accompanies this week’s podcast. It was published in Firehouse Magazine back in 2004-2005. It was relevant then, and I believe even more relevant now.
Let’s Put Discipline back into the fire service.
I am sure we have all heard it around the kitchen table or at meeting night in our own fire stations…the great malady of all times in the fire service…..”These new guys just aren’t the same”, “back in our day…” It really doesn’t matter if you are a large department or a small rural volunteer company, the facts are the folks that are joining our organizations clearly are different and have some different values then those from days gone by. I also believe that we as fire officers, leaders and fire instructors have a missing ingredient that we are failing to provide. That ingredient is discipline. Discipline takes on many forms and most of those always seem to have a negative connotation. It is my belief that discipline can be the most valuable corrective and educational tool that we have in the fire service.
One of the definitions of discipline is the systematic training or subjection to authority especially the training of the mental, moral, and physical powers by instruction and exercise. (Funk & Wagnall’s) Wow, that doesn’t sound bad at all does it? These are exactly the principles that we should foster in the fire service and our own departments.
The other aspect that we should look at is the various levels of discipline starting with our own personal discipline, shift or group level discipline, and departmental discipline.
Do we have the personal discipline to do what we are supposed to do, even when nobody is looking? Do we always wear our seatbelts, or never remove our air mask too early. Do we have personal pride in our own demeanor, uniform and skill levels? Some of these issues have a direct relationship to whether or not we follow orders, stay as a crew, don’t free lance, and many other issues in the fire house and on the fire scene.
Shift or group level discipline
This relates to your shift or group on the career side or maybe your station or company on the call and volunteer side, but the results are the same. How do you compare with the other groups in your department? Is your group known as the “A” team or as “F” troop? If you are the company officer it is your responsibility to make sure your group is “…systematically training of the mental, moral, and physical powers by instruction and exercise” Nobody but you can make this happen. Don’t be looking over your shoulder for anyone else because this relates to your personal discipline as an officer.
The DISCIPLINE Acronym
Since the fire service loves acronyms, I have created an acronym using the word discipline, which relates to something that we can all bring to the fire service. I have approached the acronym as something we all need and we can apply it from the officer point of view as well as the firefighter point of view. Take it and apply it as you see fit.
D – Determination. If you are a company officer, you will need determination and stamina. Enforcing rules and regulation is not easy and having to re-visit some issues, time and time again can wear you down. As a firefighter, determination is what prevents you from becoming lax or nonchalant. You always buckle up, wear all of your PPE and follow SOPs. This too, can be very challenging and it takes determination to continue to do this all the time.
I – Integrity If you are a company officer all you have is your integrity. Your personnel should be able to trust you and what you say. It is really that simple. There are too many people that take their personal integrity much too lightly. If you are a firefighter your company officer must know that your personal integrity will allow him /her to trust you and your actions and abilities. For both officers and firefighters integrity means being truthful and forthright and it also includes honestly looking at your abilities as well.
S – Sincerity People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. I saw this quote many years ago and I am unsure of it’s origin but the sentiment is very true. Fire officers must truly care about their members and members must care about each other and truly wish to become part of the team.
C – Competence This is easily said and not always done. Passing the test does not make you competent; your performance under stress in the field demonstrates it much better. As an officer do you have technical ability and demonstrate a command presence? As a firefighter do you keep your skills sharp and maintain yourself current so that your shift officer is never embarrassed by your lack of knowledge, skills or abilities?
I – Initiative – Do you have to wait for written orders or directive number 17 to come down from headquarters or are you a self motivated starter who will get things done without supervision. Officers enjoy having firefighters on their group or engine company that show initiative and self motivation.
P – Pride Pride is nothing more than caring about the things that you do regardless if anyone is looking or not. It is about you, your appearance, and your actions. It also applies to our off duty behavior whether we like that or not or whether we choose to believe it or not. Our personal pride as an officer or as a firefighter means an awful lot. It reflects in our behavior as others see us.
L – Loyalty As an officer one should always show a more pronounced sense of loyalty to the department and administration as you move up the ladder and chain of command. You should also show a sincere sense of loyalty to those who serve with you as subordinates and make you look good every day. That loyalty can be a tough one to balance between those who serve with you and those to whom you serve. There is a distinct difference between loyalty and blind allegiance. Loyalty involves a conscience feeling of wanting to achieve the goals of leadership, and blind allegiance means following folks even when we know they might be wrong. It is well beyond the scope of this article to venture down this path.
I – Instructing One of the primary jobs and tasks of an officer or a senior firefighter is to help mentor and train and instruct others along the way. There is nothing greater that will help improve the fire service more than the sharing of knowledge, skills and experience between folks that have the skills and those new students who are trying to learn them.
N – Nimble Officers and firefighters in the fire service really suffer when it comes to this. We must be nimble and ready willing and able to make changes much faster then we do. The factors that affect our ability to be nimble are the size of our department, and the number and length of long standing traditions and / or practices. The fire officer and firefighter has to be operationally nimble, but also mentally ready to be nimble to adjust their personal and professional course and things change around us. You know, change ….like for instance the new recruits that are coming to us now, let’s say.
E – Enthusiasm There is no way to easily hide your personal enthusiasm for the job, or for that matter your lack of enthusiasm either. Fire officers and firefighters who show enthusiasm and passion for the job will find that it is truly contagious and it positively benefits an organization, shift, or department. Enthusiasm cannot be faked nor forced upon anyone and it should be the job of officers and or firefighters to help foster and spread enthusiasm.
So to me the answer is clear, whether or not you choose the dictionary definition of systematic training or subjection to authority especially the training of the mental, moral, and physical powers by instruction and exercise, or if you choose to implement my DISCIPLINE acronym, the fire service might be a better place for your action. The fact that we now have explored that discipline in whatever form applies to us personally, as an engine or ladder company officer or member, as a group, shift or platoon member and even right to the top as a an entire department, means that you the reader can do something about it without anybody else’s help. You don’t need the chief, the captain, mayor or city manager, we can all apply a little more discipline to the fire service and maybe there will be something else new to talk about at the kitchen table next week! Let’s stop admiring the problem of these new recruits not being the same, and do something about it.
Stay safe and take care of one another!
Here is this week’s podcast where I speak about this very topic and more!
This week on the Firefighter Training Podcast I discuss our use of the term paramilitary organization , respect for our veterans, and a discussion about discipline.