Morals in the Fire Service: Do No Harm!

By Michael M. Dugan

Many doctors subscribe to what they call the “Hippocratic Oath,” a vow to do no harm to a patient. The fire service is a traditional organization that uses words like “honor,” “duty,” “commitment,” “honesty,” “trust,” and “loyalty.” These words are not just words; they are set of values, a moral compass that the fire service follows. This allows the public to have faith in and trust us when we come into their homes at some of the worst times in their lives. The fire service has a duty—an obligation—to uphold these traditions and deal with the public and each other with these moral principles in mind. We use these terms as defining principles that set us apart from the average civilian. We are, and should be, held to a higher standard than the average person.

If you know of a member of your department that is being harassed, abused, or mistreated, you have a sacred duty to protect that individual. You need to get back to your core values and your moral foundation. Those members coming into the fire service to do good are doing so not because of the schedule or the benefits. We need firefighters, the men and women who put the public above themselves, to serve, and they want to do well by the community and the members they serve with. We have gotten off track with what we think is important in the fire service today; our members must be willing and able put themselves in situations to make a positive impact.

Viewing recent fire service news, I see stories that make me feel that we have lost our moral compass; this includes issues of sexual harassment that led to the suicide of one member and another situation where a member of a large department was being used sexually by several fellow members for their own personal satisfaction. There was also a third instance where a male member was violated by other members of his department, and the chief’s reaction was, “We are going to forget this happened.” Or, what about the incident were a member was providing care to a civilian, and that member goes into the civilian’s pockets and takes out money? How can any of us feel that this is right?

RELATED: Brunacini on Trusted VoicesBryan on “Refreshing” Ethics in the Fire ServiceKastros on How to Inspire and Motivate Firefighters


Honest members of the fire service should be outraged by the conduct of these people who are in our profession. It doesn’t matter whether you are a volunteer, a career, or a paid-on-call member; you have a right to expect your leaders to bring in people who feel the same passion for the job as you. Granted, some people have made mistakes in the past, but we must not hold these mistakes against them. They deserve a second chance to show that they want to be a valuable, trustworthy, willing member of our service to make it a better place.

If someone you know is abused in the fire station or harassed anonymously over the Internet, are you outraged that this happened? What about men like me that have daughters…where are their voices? If a leader can say were going to forget this happened or were are going to make this go away, how can he be trusted to guide us on the fire scene. How can we have faith a person with that kind of moral compass protect me and my family?

The fire service needs a self-check to ensure that the members coming into the fire service and those here now have a set of impeccable values in a firm moral compass. We need to know that the men and women with whom we work, volunteer, and fight fire have a set of values that hopefully mirror our own. We need to make sure that the fire service does not become just another profession. We need to hold ourselves and our members to the highest standard possible!


MICHAEL M. DUGAN, a 40-year veteran of the fire service, was a 27-year member of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), where he served as captain of Ladder Company 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, before retiring. As a lieutenant, he served in Ladder Company 42 in the South Bronx. While assigned as a firefighter in Ladder Company 43 in Spanish Harlem, he received the James Gordon Bennett Medal in 1992 and the Harry M. Archer Medal in 1993, FDNY’s highest award for bravery. He was a volunteer firefighter in Halesite, New York. He lectures on truck company operations, building construction, size-up, and today’s fire service. He is a member of the FDIC and Fire Engineering educational/editorial advisory boards.

No posts to display