When firefighters demonstrate inappropriate behavior (alcohol/drug abuse, inability to get along with fellow members, poor performance, etc.) it can be a symptom of a deeper problem, and it’s time to “step in before it gets out of control,” Battalion Chief Anthony Kastros (Sacramento (CA) Metropolitan Fire District) declared at Wednesday’s “Mastering the Counseling Session: High-Impact Role Plays.”

The issues covered include lawsuits, sexual misconduct, drinking on the job, poor personnel relationships, new officer/crew situations,
cell phones, driving, and others.

However, we must not just treat the symptom, but the underlying problem. He told the class of a young firefighter who was obnoxious and couldn’t get along with fellow members. He came to the counseling session accompanied by an older firefighter who was apparently his mentor, and who exhibited a similar attitude.

On asking how the younger firefighter came to join the fire service, it came out that his father had left his family when he was 12. Later, he had put himself though fire training. This was the real problem, of which the bad attitude was just a symptom.
The father’s abandonment was seen as a rejection, and influenced this person in his attitudes and behavior. At the firehouse, he latched onto this mentor, going so far as to call him “Dad.”

Kastros outlined the important components of a counseling session. First, establish a rapport with the member and make the session safe. Point out the firefighter’s positive points and good behavior.

Establishing a good rapport is essential, Kastros said, because if the member being counseled is put on the defensive he not cooperate, and the session may fail. “It’s like losing a fish when fishing,” Kastros said.

Give a reason for the meeting, and state the specific problem (or challenge).

Outline the expected behavior change, and provide a target of expected behavior that needs to change, as well as a target date for expected improvement. Also, state the consequences if behavior does not change.

Also outline areas where and how you can assist the member in attaining the needed change. End on a positive note.

Students acted out two counseling sessions, following the counseling session outline above.
An instructor at FDIC for three years, Anthony Kastros is author of the article “Mastering the Art of Fireground Command: Calming the Chaos” (Fire Engineering, March 2011); the “Mastering the Fire Service Assessment Center” book and video series (Fire Engineering, 2006); and the three-part DVD series, “Mastering Fireground Command: Calming the Chaos” (Fire Engineering, 2011).

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