By Dave Murphy
The fire service cannot be compared with any other type of profession. We work unusual hours; the job changes daily; and, in many cases, we spend more time with co-workers than we do with our own families. On a daily basis, there are plenty of situations that tend to elevate our individual stress meters. There are currently several generations and many differing cultures in the fire service. Each generation and culture has a different value system. Is it any wonder that conflicts arise amid the many different personalities present in the fire station? I recently came across an article written by Ann Landers. I will relate her philosophy of “getting along with others” directly to the fire service and describe it in terms of “commandments” we would all do well to live by.
- Mind thy tongue. Conversation is usually plentiful in the fire station. It is not always positive. Opinions concerning administration and each other surface easily. Always say less than you think. Remember, you are accountable for what you say. Perhaps that is why we have two ears and only one mouth. Realize that the tone of your voice and your body language also have a bearing on how your words will be received. Make an effort to talk less and listen more.
- Limit thy promises. Make promises sparingly, and keep them faithfully, no matter what the costs. Fire station promises are like deathbed promises–they are easily made and more easily forgotten. Because of the existing hierarchal structure of the fire service, we are most likely very limited in what we can actually deliver. Always impress that it is indeed the individual, not someone else’s promises, that ultimately controls his destiny.
- Be thou encouraging. Always encourage others to do their best. A well-placed compliment may spur others to action in the quest to better themselves. It costs nothing to convey and can have an immediate personal impact. Examples may include encouragement regarding a promotional exam or noticing someone is losing weight. Anything that benefits the individual usually benefits the department as well. By encouraging others, you also reflect positively on yourself.
- Express thy sincerity. Exhibit honest interest in others; their pursuits; their work, homes, and families. Rejoice with them whenever you can; mourn with them when necessary. Make everyone, on the job and off, feel like they are important. Like it or not, we are a family. We share a common bond that exists beyond the workplace. We are exhibiting genuine friendship when we inquire of things that interest others.
- Be thou cheerful. No one likes to be around a whiner. Put on that happy face; don’t depress everyone else around you. Everyone has troubles; do not dwell on them, especially in conversations with others. Fire station shifts can become very long, especially when someone is having a bad day. At the very least, don’t add to their misery. Be the kind of person that others want to be stationed with.
- Be thee open minded. Discuss but don’t argue. Fire station conversations often tend to be one-sided and overheat easily. It is often very hard for us to see the other side of the coin. Please refer back to Commandment Number One. Think before you speak. It is the mark of a superior mind to be able to disagree without being disagreeable.
- Maintain thy integrity. We have all admired certain officers in our career. Try to emulate the actions of those who impress you. Let your actions speak for themselves. Do not enter into idle gossip–no good can come from it. Your integrity will carry you when other mistakes inevitably occur.
- Be thee mindful of others. Joking is commonplace in the fire station. It is often on the borderline of cruelty. Be careful: Wit and humor at another’s expense are rarely worth it and may hurt when least expected. Remember, what goes around comes around.
- Toughen thy skin. Pay no mind to harsh remarks about you. Harsh words are often a reality in the life of a firefighter. Remember, the messenger may not be viewed as the most accurate reporter in the world. Perform your job in a manner that will refute rumors and backbiting. Others may still not like you, but they will respect you.
- Seek not thine own glory. Do not live (or wait) for credit due you. Your wait may be a long one. Almost everyone, given the chance, will excel from time to time. Every individual has talent; simply do your best and be patient. Forget about yourself and let others remember your exploits. A more effective strategy would entail never missing the opportunity to praise the efforts of someone else.
It is not always easy to get along with others in the workplace. This can be especially true in the fire service. A myriad of complexities arise on a daily basis that may test many of the aforementioned commandments. As you go about your daily duties, think of this list from time to time. How well do you adhere to it?
Dave Murphy retired as an assistant chief of the Richmond (KY) Fire Department and currently serves as an assistant professor in the Fire and Safety Engineering Technology program at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.