By Todd J. LeDuc
Some tragic examples of workplace harassment and bullying have emerged publicly within organizations across a broad spectrum of industries of recent times, including large metropolitan fire departments. The mainstream and social media outlets have reported on numerous examples of harassment and inappropriate behavior and bullying in the workplace, many reported with the #MeToo movement. Fire service organizations such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs with its Safety, Health & Survival Section, I-Women, and others have seen the need to create resources from awareness campaigns on this issue. These include a toolkit that contains sample policies and discusses a zero-tolerance approach to unacceptable behaviors. It also addresses awareness and reporting of instances of harassment and bullying in the workforce without the fear of repercussion.
A study conducted in Japan looked at 4,000 firefighters – 3,200 being male firefighters, the remaining 800 being female firefighters–and spanned some 733 reporting departments. In this particular study, 38 percent of the women firefighters said they had experienced harassment within the past year, while 17 percent of the male firefighters reported being subjected to harassment. The study results from Japan coincided with a reported firefighter suicide attributed to the harassment he was reportedly subjected to.
In the United States, a 2016 study examined bullying in the United States fire service. The respondents were limited to 113 responses, and as such represent a very small fraction of the approximately 1.2 million career and volunteer firefighters in the United States. In this limited sample size, significantly more women firefighters reported harassment related to their race, gender, and/or sexual orientation.
We know that harassment and bullying has no place in the workforce, but we also know it can take a tremendous toll on the victims and can occur at any and all levels within an organization.
A critical leadership obligation is to ensure that appropriate policies and procedures are in place, training has been conducted regularly on those policies and procedures, that there is zero tolerance for such behaviors, and that clear reporting mechanisms are established so there is no fear of reprisal. Once senior leadership sends a clear no-tolerance message and appropriate safeguards and reporting mechanisms set up, that message must be reinforced with accountability at all levels. One of the core values of any fire service organization must be, in the words of the late Chief Alan V. Brunacini, to “Be Nice.” The adage of “treat others the way you would want to be treated” must be ingrained as a core value of your organization.
Take a moment to review the tool box that has been made available to organizations and is located at https://www.iafc.org/topics-and-tools/resources/resource/bullying-and-workplace-violence-prevention-toolkit
Todd J. LeDuc, MS, CFO, FIFirE, is a 27-year veteran of and an assistant chief with Broward County (FL) Fire Rescue, an internally accredited metro fire department. He is also the secretary of the International Association of Fire Chief’s Association Safety, Health & Survival Board. He has a master’s degree in executive fire service leadership, is a peer reviewer for agency accreditation and professional credentialing. He is a credentialed chief officer, a certified emergency manager, and a fellow in the Institute of Fire Engineers. You can reach LeDuc by email at email@example.com.