Firefighting, Leadership

The Art of Acting FOOLish

By Steve Schreck

Over the past few years there has been considerable fire service interest in the Fraternal Order of Leatherheads Society (FOOLS); chapters are growing at an incredible rate. The FOOLS is an international organization of firefighters whose local chapters are dedicated to honoring tradition and values within the fire service. The active chapters operate as benevolent organizations and offer training to better prepare not only their members but also the fire service as a whole in fulfilling their duties as firefighters.

The FOOLS was founded by individuals who care deeply for the fire service and want to work to improve training, maintain pride, and keep alive the traditions that make firefighting the greatest profession.

The principles, values, and tradition the FOOLS use as their guiding philosophy are not unique to the FOOLS; they should be part of the guiding philosophy all firefighters follow in their conduct and actions. As firefighters, it is our responsibility to conduct ourselves morally and ethically. Many years ago, I was told that ethics is how we conduct ourselves when we are being watched and morals how we conduct ourselves when we believe nobody is watching. We should always conduct ourselves in a way that would make our loved ones proud while upholding the traditions and honor of our organizations and the fire service. It is our responsibility to protect ourselves, our fellow firefighters, and the public from harm. It is a trust that has been placed in us, and it is critically important that we do not violate that trust. We have the responsibility of maintaining the highest level of training possible and to pass on that knowledge to our fellow firefighters and to the public in the form of fire prevention.

The ability to make change lies not within an organization but within individuals. As firefighters, we have the power to effect change, and our conduct within our organizations determines if that change will be positive or negative. An organization such as the FOOLS doesn’t empower its members to create change or give them the ability to train or to honor our past by upholding honorable traditions (we should not hold on to all traditions). These powers come from individuals who conduct themselves morally and ethically. It does not take an organization to support worthy causes, to take care of our brothers and sisters in the service, and to be an example to the community. Every firefighter who has heard the calling of being part of the greatest profession (regardless if paid or volunteer) has already taken the hardest step. The FOOLS is a strong organization because of its individual members, not the other way around. So when I say anybody can act Foolish, I mean that any organization, including your fire department, is defined by its individual members and those members have the power to create an organization of which they can be proud.

It could easily be argued that organizations such as the FOOLS would be unnecessary if we all followed the ideals and values of the fire service and remember the history of our profession. “For the Men,” “Protect the Brotherhood,” ”Everyone Goes Home,” ”Remember Fallen Brothers,” ”Keep the Faith,” and ”Do the Right Thing” are not just mantras of the FOOLS. They should be the code by which all firefighters live. Although most firefighters do live by this code of conduct, I would still raise the argument that the FOOLS is a critical component of today’s fire service because the FOOLS spread these traditions, lessons, and brotherhood from station to station, town to town, state to state, and even country to country. Through the members of the FOOLS, we build a better trained and equipped fire service. The Information Age has made it easier for FOOLS to share knowledge and build relationships through technologies that were not available only a few years ago.

The FOOLS has not been completely unscathed or untarnished. As with any large organization, some members, and even chapters, have violated the trust and have gone counter to the organization’s beliefs and principles. I do not feel that this is a reason not to support the organization or it members. I have always believed that firefighters have a moral and ethical responsibility and if firefighters violate the trust placed in them, they should be held accountable.

So go ahead. Whether or not you are a card-carrying FOOL, act FOOLish.

Steve Schreck is a battalion chief with the Alaska Division of Fire and Life Safety and is the coordinator for the Office of Rural Fire Protection.