Stating that “There is no higher aspiration, no greater ambition than to serve one’s fellow citizens as a firefighter,” Bobby Halton, FDIC Education Director and editor in chief of Fire Engineering, in his opening remarks at Thursday’s General Session, reminded attendees that “what firefighters do and how they behave on and off the job matters.”
Halton relayed how the proliferation of the Internet, the presence of cameras everywhere, and an increasing interest in the fire service has caused firefighter behavior to come under tremendous scrutiny; these developments, Halton said, have raised concerns that the public can easily get the wrong impression from members’ behaviors that reflect poorly on the firefighting profession.
The solution to maintaining the ethics and honor of the fire serve is “to periodically step back
and rededicate ourselves to the mission,” Halton related. “It is always good to recommit, to pledge one’s honor, to affirm that we are dedicated to a more noble cause. It is what sets us apart and gives us a sense of purpose and belonging.”
“Having an ethical compass is part of our tradition,” Halton noted. “Most of us are always headed true north, but what about those who have publicly gone off course?” he asked.
Many firefighters, Halton explained, feel that the ethics of the fire service need to be reinforced and recommitted to.
Reviewing the status of ethics in the tradition of the fire service and some of the firefighter behaviors that have come to light through the plethora of media outlets today, Halton distinguished between the prank, which, “in hindsight, probably should not have been done,”
and behaviors that are “clear violations of our moral principles, ethical violations such as stealing, a major ethical violation.
“We are trusted implicitly by the citizens we serve,” Halton reminded the audience. “Any blemish on this trust, like intentionally stealing money, is a major hit to our hard-earned reputations–and one that we cannot afford or tolerate.”
Unethical behavior that gets reported on the news–such as firefighters’ paying others to work for them, fraud and tax evasion, claiming physical disability and then winning a body-building contest, or working physically demanding jobs under the table are unethical and illegal–Halton said. Moreover, these reports cause the public to view every firefighter as a thief, a scam artist, or a fraud, he added.
Halton referred to the Fire Service Ethics statement, released by some fire service members concerned about the ethics issue. It lists a multitude of behaviors identified by the authors as unethical. Halton urged vigorous support for this effort.
In addition, Halton said, the fire service should also have a “simplistic and less elaborate reminder of our basic ethical commitments,
an oath, a code of honor for the fire service.” This code should include “a more formal covenant and a creed (profession of beliefs).”
After reviewing the codes of the various U.S. military services, Halton determined that the mission of the U. S. Coast Guard comes closest to the fire service mission.
“The United States Coast Guardsman Creed could have been written for the fire service,” Halton reported. “The principles in this beautiful creed are our principles. The values are our values; it is an eloquent statement of our ethics.”
Accordingly, Halton adapted, with permission, “A United States Coast Guardsman,” written by Vice Admiral Harry G. Hamlet, for the fire service. It follows.
The Firefighter‘s Creed
Adapted from “A United States Coast Guardsman.”
I am proud to be a firefighter.
I revere that long line of expert firefighters who by their devotion to duty and sacrifice of self, have made it possible for me to be a member of a service honored and respected, in good times
and bad, throughout the world.
I never, by word or deed, will bring reproach upon the fair name of the fire service,
nor permit others to do so unchallenged.
I will cheerfully and willingly
obey all lawful orders.
I will always be on time to relieve,
and shall endeavor to do more,
rather than less, than my share.
I will always be at my station,
alert and attending to my duties.
I shall, so far as I am able,
bring to my seniors solutions, not problems.
I shall live joyously,
but always with due regard
for the rights and privileges of others.
I shall endeavor to be a model citizen
in the community in which I live.
I shall sell my life dearly to my enemy fire
but give it freely to rescue those in peril.
With God’s help,
I shall endeavor to be one of
His noblest Works.
Halton explained his interpretation of what this Creed means for the Fire Service.
“In reciting this creed,” he said
We recognize the long line of firefighters who so selflessly have come before us; from whose sacrifices we learned that the mission comes first,
We reaffirm that although we are individuals and have personal responsibilities and commitments, we respond in teams, and we are most proud of our work when the mission is accomplished and everyone on the team comes home safely.
We acknowledge that we carry the burden of a virtuous honor which humbles us and buckles our knees under its weight, for to blemish it, to tarnish its luster, is something we can never permit ourselves or any other to dare.
We commit ourselves to our core principles of hard work and individual responsibility.
We dedicate ourselves to being problem solvers and team mates forever, bonded in a brotherhood of morally principled and ethical firefighters.
We acknowledge that we will celebrate life with a reckless abandon, as only those who live everyday with the constant reminder of the fragility of our existence can.
But, we will always be mindful of others,
always respectful of those around us
and of their rights and their privileges.
Halton left the choice of whether to recite this Creed to the audience members. “Choose freely you must,” he said, “for no one can force someone to dedicate himself so fully to such a noble and selfless cause.”