Leadership

Firefighters vs. Firefighters

SHOVE IT UNDER THE RUG?

I Don’t Think That’s Going To Happen

So…last weekend in Prince Georges County, Maryland, there was an extremely disturbing incident involving career and volunteer firefighters. Reports are that they physically got into a fight or fights upon arriving on the scene. Fighting Fire-Fighters. 

This is hardly the first time this has happened. Actually, back in the 1800s, volunteer firefighters were a threat unto themselves. While buildings burned, New York firefighters brawled and beat up rivals in other fire companies. During the Draft Riots of the Civil War — a grisly, episode depicted in Martin Scorcese’s Gangs of New York**– where one fire company set a fire and then stopped others from putting it out. 

How ’bout that. Yep- according to FEMA, this is officially the earliest recorded documentation of BMA. (Brotherhood My A$$) occurring in the North American fire service. And be sure to definitely watch for the fire company “hydrant hider” in this video.

It’s happened in other places-back in the day-and in recent times as well. East coast. West coast and all around some towns. And just when you thought those days were over, comes last weekend. Currently, Prince Georges County authorities are investigating allegations that two volunteer Firefighters assaulted two career firefighters, women from another station, at the scene of a house that was on fire.

A career Prince George’s County Fire Lieutenant claims she was thrown from the porch of the burning home. Another Firefighter said she was shoved. This apparently happened as an attack line was being stretched into the house. Fortunately the momentary delay didn’t drastically impact the fire-but it may very well may impact some futures. All four firefighters are off response duty while the incident is investigated.

As many of you may know, the Prince Georges County Fire-EMS Department is North America’s largest and busiest combination department under one command structure. Made up of volunteer companies, career companies and combination stations, they answer nearly 140,000 calls for service in an urban county (bordering Washington DC) – whose population is approaching 1 million people. All personnel fall under one command structure with the County Fire Chief having overall command. Under the county chief and the countywide command structure, there are dozens of highly qualified and seasoned career chiefs, volunteer chiefs, career and volunteer officers, Firefighter/Paramedics, Firefighter/EMT’s turning out from 40+ stations. 

It’s a very diverse fire/EMS department in every sense of the word-and it works well 99.99% of the time. Like your department and mine, on occasion, people may screw it up. That’s what happened this time. Some responding people forgot about what was best for the people who frantically asked them to come help put out their house. The only reason we exist is to help those people. That’s it. It’s all about them.

So naturally, albeit rarely, bad stuff happens at every FD – and of course the test (following the incident) is how the people deal with it. Those who reportedly went nuts on each other last weekend will deal with it based upon the findings, policy and laws. The next question though, that most of us would ask is-how is the Chief going to deal with it?

I can tell you how my chief would deal with outlandish behavior that may interfere with the public’s trust. I’ve seen how it works several times. I can also tell and show you how I would handles it-and have. Most of you know your chief and how she or he would deal with something like this. Absolutely there should be systems in place to minimize stuff like this from happening. But people, being people, tend to go beyond what’s expected-good and bad – and this time it was bad. Training, discipline, respect and priorities all out the window. 

Since this episode isn’t about us, I invite you to take 5 minutes and see how Prince Georges County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor is dealing with it. I say dealing with it as in the sense that this is how he is dealing with it currently, right now. Odd’s are, from what was reported to have happened, there will be much more to deal with, related to people. 

Preventing people from doing dumb stuff is always the best way. Duh. We knew that. I mean-we all know that. I promise you that I have certainly “stepped on it” more than once and taken the lashes. 

Sometimes, no matter what you do, people will do dumb stuff. How it’s dealt with internally and externally is a leadership “test.” The actions following the bad stuff can go a long way in prevention-and serve as great behavioral reminders to those who haven’t yet screwed up-all at the same time. 

From time to time, we all need to be reminded that when we report for work or turnout for a run, the department and community is “renting” our behavior …and there are certain things that are-and are not, acceptable. How the “are not” are dealt with by the “head coach” sets the tone (and behavior) for every level of the future. 

Take 5 minutes and watch how Marc Bashoor, Chief of PGFD chose to deal with this today. While there was reported shoving…there is no rug.

BILLY GOLDFEDER, EFO, Billy Goldfederis deputy chief of the Loveland-Symmes (OH) Fire Department. He has been a firefighter since 1973, a company officer since 1979, and a chief officer since 1982. He serves on the International Association of Fire Chiefs board of directors, the September 11th Families Association, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation. He has taught at FDIC for 30-plus years and is a member of the Fire Engineering editorial advisory board and the FDIC executive advisory board. He writes the “Nozzlehead” column for FireRescue magazine and is in charge of www.firefighterclosecalls.com.