Taking Responsibility for Department Integrity

A firefighter helps adjust a comrade's gear.

(Photo by Tony Greco)

By Roger Lunt

Is it possible that some of our recruitment, training, and promotional programs are not incorporating and encouraging integrity in our firefighters, fire officers, and fire department in general? Do you play a role that contributes to a gradual deterioration of fire service integrity? Integrity is the adherence to a code of values.  

We should take pride in the heritage of our service and remember that today we are a part of the heritage of tomorrow’s firefighters.

With every training session that I lead on the topic of fireground management, I repeat the following phrases, which we have all heard many times:

  • “I am my brother and sister’s keeper.”
  • “This is a team sport.”
  • “I have your back.”
  • “When you choose to be a firefighter, you forfeit the right to be average.”

 Of course, as is expected, I receive several head nods of approval from those attending.

Then I ask if they understand the meaning of the following–UI, CI, CC, and UC–in regards to points I just referenced, and how these letters apply to their personal and departmental accountability to learning and service. I then explain, as it was explained to me by my good friend and fire service brother Captain Bill Farnum, the relevance of UI, CI, CC, and UC to the integrity of the firefighter, the fire officer, and their department.

In this writing, the “UI” means Unconscious Incompetent. We were all at the Unconscious Incompetent level with every fire service cognitive and psychomotor skill we now possess. We all, to some degree, are at this level with other needed skills and knowledge to which are yet to be exposed.

You cannot be expected to know what you do not know or have not been exposed to for personal growth. This is fine, but if we really believe what I stated in the previous paragraph, regarding not being average and taking care of each other, then we must seek new skills and knowledge while maintaining those we have developed, with a goal to better serve our community while protecting our firefighters. Once we have done this, we must then move to the next level and grow.

“CI” represents Conscious Incompetent. You have become aware of a way to improve upon your personal and departmental service. For example, a better promotional process, or a safer practice for the firefighter, or how to avoid fire department-induced response chaos. The firefighter or the fire department leadership is aware (conscious) of a better approach, but not yet prepared (incompetent) to fully make the necessary improvement(s).  Moving to the next step is a determined effort with regard to being accountable to duties (integrity) of the fire service.

At this point within your personal fire service training and education, you have two choices: (1) to remain at this level of learning and competency or (2) move to the next level.  If your choice is option #1, you have chosen to be a CI firefighter or officer that is aware of a personal skill deficiency or a departmental insufficiency. You have been exposed to a better way of doing things, but do not act to make things better. For example, perhaps you have an understanding that the deliberate use of 10-codes can place firefighters at risk but do nothing to change the habit of using them. Are you aware that not wearing our PPE as designed, or growing facial hair within our face piece seal area, or not having a response system that accounts for all on scene fire service personnel is placing our firefighters at risk? Do any of these apply to members of your fire department? What actions in your department are taken to care for these brothers and sisters? Perhaps your fire department recognizes that the hiring and promotional process is not fulfilling the responsibility for hiring and promoting the best people, and yet have knowledge of actions that could correct the process, but again do not take action. A determination to delay corrective actions is just a shameful way of doing nothing. Once you become CI on a topic or skill, you can never become an UI on the same topic or skill. You can only choose to be incompetent or choose to move purposely towards competency.

How many times have you attended a training session or read a trade journal article that offered a great deal of benefit to the safety of the firefighter and service to the community, but you did not pursue the issues raised? Your probable excuse supported lack of action; to do nothing more after the exposure for a safer and more efficient way of doing things falls below the bar for fire service integrity standards.

The CC represents the Conscious Competent. The firefighter and officer are aware of how to continue positive personal and departmental growth and have worked hard to improve. They are not proficient, but they can now accomplish the task or goal set before them if they maintain a determined focus on every step. An example is the fire officer referencing the format for a proper on-scene report that is taped to the dash as he/she rides to the scene. When the informal coffee table planning session references, perhaps unknowingly, the “apple tree” of goals and challenges, the determined focus is to go for all the apples. The group is not just reaching for the low-hanging fruit–they refuse to make excuses for not going for the more difficult to reach, higher-hanging fruit.

The fourth area represents the firefighter and officer accountable to themselves and their fire service brothers and sisters. The UC  is the Unconscious Competent. He or she no longer has to think about how to do the right thing; it has become habit. They cannot perform any other way.

A frequent example that I share, and is addressed in my book, is the on-scene and status report format. It is very difficult for myself and others that I have responded with to communicate on the fire scene without having the important details of a proper radio report format pictured in our mind. Regardless of all the distractions at the time that we send and receive radio messages, the format of this departmental established communication is unconsciously referenced.

If you are better than average, and you believe that you are your fire service brother and sister’s keeper, then what personal action have you taken to hold yourself accountable? Are you an Unconscious Incompetent, a Conscious Incompetent, a Conscious Competent, or the Unconscious Competent? WARNING! Your next training session, or the next article you read may, at a minimum, make you a CI on a fire service topic.

If there is any loss of fire department integrity, I suspect that it has been a gradual fading process that probably has a notable impact on the response. The existence of fire service integrity promotes a code of unquenchable thirst for firefighter safety and service. If there is a gradual fading of integrity in your firefighters and officers, it will likely be apparent through an increase of excuses and complaints. The flip side of that being that integrity to service and duty is as apparent as a bright light in an otherwise dark room.

The following was written for a combination fire department. The purpose of the document was to officially support an integrity in service for the officer within our volunteer service ranks by addressing the criteria to be an officer, selection process, job description, position review, and position retention.

Our Volunteer Officer

Major area content listings:

Position Criteria, Selection Process, Job Description, Officer Code of Ethics, Position Review,

Position Retention.

The officer within the fire department volunteer service will hold an authority relative to their assigned number (i.e., 401 ranks higher than 402, 402 higher than 403, and so on.) The three-digit number is specifically assigned to each fire department volunteer service officer, and will be displayed on the officer’s helmet.

The Volunteer Officer will hold a ranking authority reflected on the department organizational chart following the career firefighter level and above the volunteer firefighter level.

Position Criteria:

1. Volunteer firefighter being a member in good standing.

2. Minimum of five years’ experience as a member of the career or volunteer fire service

or a minimum of two years “in-good standing membership” with the fire department.

3. Hold the confidence of fire department volunteer and career members in the following areas:

Respect from other members in the department; demonstrated leadership skills; demonstrated loyalty to the department; skills to perform on-scene and in-house expectations relative to volunteer officer position; departmental participation beyond weekly scheduled activities; communication Skills; represents the department in dress, action, and speech; ability to teach others.

4. Special Additional Criteria

401 Volunteer Service Officer/Training

(A)   Ability to assess training needs, plan, develop and deliver training activities.

402 Volunteer Service Officer/Emergency Medical Service (EMS)

(A)   Emergency Medical Technician certification

403 Volunteer Service Officer/Safety

(A)   Experience and training-based skill and judgment required of our varied response environments.

Selection Process:

1. No more than 10 members will be selected by a ranking vote of confidence from the volunteer service.

2. Those 10 members will be reduced to seven through a ranking vote of confidence by the career service.

3. Those seven members being considered for the officer position will be reviewed and discussed by the career shift officers.

4. The final selection of five officers, and the assignment of the officer position, will be determined by the assistant fire chief and fire chief.

5. The fire chief should be expected to follow the results of the steps above, but holds veto power over any volunteer officer promotion.

Job Description:

Though the volunteer officer positions were developed to fill a void at the tactical level of operation in the department, this position is expected to fulfill the operational duties at the strategic, tactical, and task levels in the response and non-response environments.

All Volunteer Service Officers:

1.      Shall provide the direction and control of personnel under his/her command to assure the proper performance of duties and adherence to established rules, regulations, policies, and procedures.

2.      Will provide leadership and supervision which will develop and maintain pride and loyalty in the department.

3.      Shall maintain discipline and morale and membership motivation with the volunteer services.

4.      Shall promote harmony and cooperation with other units of the fire department, city agencies, and other agencies that have contact with the department.

5.      Shall hold a higher duty than other members of the volunteer service to training needs of our volunteer firefighters.

401 Volunteer Service Officer/Training

Shall work closely with the assistant fire chief in fulfilling training responsibilities

of this position. The member holding this position should expect to be involved

in developing, scheduling, and delivery of training sessions.

402 Volunteer Service Officer/EMS

Shall work closely with the Volunteer Service Officer/Training in fulfilling

training responsibilities of this position. The member holding this position should

expect to be involved in developing, scheduling, and delivery of training sessions.

403 Volunteer Service Officer / Safety

Shall hold a responsibility to identifying safety issues, presenting those concerns

to a ranking member, as well as offering a suggested safer approach to achieving

the intended goal of any activity.

404 and 405 Volunteer Service Officer

Shall promote harmony and cooperation with other units of the fire department, city agencies, and other agencies that have contact with the department.

Our Officer Code of Ethics:

I fully realize and accept the responsibility of being an officer with the fire department

and shall perform the duties assigned to me to the best of my ability.

I shall do my share of the work that is required and that I am ordered to perform on

apparatus maintenance, station maintenance, and general firefighting duties.

I shall respond promptly and with safety to alarms of fires and emergencies to which I

am called.

I shall, after each call, return to the station and assist in putting the apparatus and

equipment in full service.

I shall obey the order of my superiors, as indicated on the fire department organizational structure chart.

            I shall attend all drills, meetings, and other events where I am expected to be present.

I shall practice and learn earnestly and shall do my part in making our fire department

an efficient firefighting and EMS organization.

I shall be loyal to my superiors and the department and shall conduct myself at all times

in a manner that is in keeping with the responsibilities of a firefighter.

I shall refrain from using profane language while working at emergencies, while in and

around the fire station, and while in uniform of the department.

I shall remember that I am in the eyes of the public on and off duty and shall conduct

myself in a manner that is commensurate with my position as a public employee to the

department.

I shall refrain from condoning, conducting or being involved in any way in any activities

or pursuits which are immoral, unethical, and/or illegal.

Position Review:

1. The volunteer officer position will be reviewed each year during the month of December.

2. The review will follow the selection process just defined.

3. The fire chief will post the listing of the officers before January 1st of the New Year.

Position Retention:

1. There will not be a position term limit.

2. The retention of the officer position will be influenced in the following ways:

            (A) Individual interest in being an officer

(B) Results of the annual selection process

(C) Maintain “In Good Standing Membership” status

(D) Discretion of the fire chief

Roger LuntRoger Lunt is a retired fire chief who spent 38 years in the fire service. He is the retired deputy director of the Illinois Fire Service Institute and is a field instructor with that organization. He has a bachelors degree in law enforcement administration and an associate degree in fire science technology. He is a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. As a member of FEMA Region V Disaster Mortuary Response Team [DMORT], he deployed to New York within 24 hours of the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers, and deployed as a member of the United States Health and Human Services DMORT Weapons of Mass Destruction Team to the after math of Hurricane Katrina. He is the author of the self-published book, “Avoiding Fire Department Induced Chaos.” He can be contacted at rdlunt@gmail.com.

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