Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
80447
970-627-3732
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Consider This... October/November 2002 Issue Number 40

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events

Fifth Annual Women Chief Fire Officers Fire Service Leadership Conference November 8-10, 2002 at Motorola University, Schaumburg, Illinois. Call 630-990-2390 or email djarvis@interaccess.com for more information.

10th International Conference of Fire Service Women April 23-27, 2003. Denver, CO. Contact info@wfsi.org for more information.

FDIC West, February 9-13, 2003. Sacramento, CA.

In the News

Craziness Chronicles

A federal fire captain in Hawaii was recently arrested for making "terroristic threats" against another employee in the workplace. The underlying cause of the conflict? Whether someone had a right to put a lock on an ice machine.

A firefighter in England was convicted earlier this year of causing grievous bodily harm after he fractured a co-worker's skull with a coffee mug during an argument. The source of the dispute? Who should answer the telephone.

Craziness? Certainly. But these were also respected and successful firefighters involved in these incidents. How did things ever go this far?

In the Hawaii case, the conflict went back years. The federal property had been used in the past as a private commercial farm, and the accused, Captain Robert Abad, was a primary farmer on the property, which raised pigs, catfish, prawns, and edible snails. Another captain, Milton Kaopua, felt the commercial venture was inappropriate and he documented his complaints. Later, Captain Abad blamed Captain Kaopua when his lock was cut off an ice machine in the fire station. This incident led to the alleged threat.

In the British case, Firefighter Michael Mole was arguing with Firefighter Peter Talbot when a dispute over the telephone escalated and Mole hit Talbot in the head with a Winnie-the-Pooh coffee mug. Mole was convicted of a lesser charge than what might have been possible because the court felt he had a "positive good character" and had momentarily lost control due to the "demanding and stressful work environment."

On the surface these stories may look like farce. Snail farms? Winnie-the-Pooh coffee mugs? But the real result is that one firefighter has a permanent head injury, another faces loss of his job as a result of a criminal conviction, and a third is out on bail for a charge that could result in a year in prison.

Certainly these incidents, and others like them, are completely preventable. These were good firefighters who ended up doing bad things as a result of unresolved interpersonal conflict in the workplace. There are always better alternatives for resolving conflict than violence or threats, but such lower level solutions must be initiated early in the dispute, before things escalate to crazy levels.

Everyone has a responsibility to make sure conflict resolution happens at the appropriate level. Officers and other departmental leaders have the greatest accountability; to insure that employees have skills to resolve low level conflict, to provide systems of support for conflict resolution such as mediation and arbitration, and to enforce rules fairly and consistently. Conflict resolution skills should be as basic to the workplace as pulling hose or driving the truck. It is the leader's responsibility to make certain this is an organizational priority, and it is everyone's responsibility to meet the standards that are set in this area. Ignore the need for conflict resolution at your own peril; it could be your department in the next news story.

Sources: TheHawaiiChannel.com, August 29, 2002
            
icBirmingham, January 7, 2002

News Brief

A federal judge has discarded a proposed settlement in an eight year old racial discrimination lawsuit filed by black police officers in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The case is now heading for trial. The settlement had been approved by the former mayor who left office on April 1, but was rejected by her successor on the advice of the city attorney.

Source: Associated Press


Sexual Harassment Update

Breast Feeding in the Workplace

In the early 1980's, one of the more high profile news stories about the fire service related to an Iowa City firefighter's desire to breast feed her child while at work. This case generated incredible media hype and many discussions as to whether new mothers should be firefighters or even whether new mothers should work at all, and it enabled discussion as to whether women really belonged in the fire service. The woman in question got little support from her department, and the situation led to a lawsuit.

Lawsuits still arise as a result of breast feeding at work but times have changed in the past 20 years. Now at least 31 states have passed laws that prohibit discrimination against nursing mothers or explicitly state that public breast feeding does not constitute indecent exposure. Some of these laws require employers to provide time or private areas for nursing mothers to express milk. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has introduced a bill that would include breast feeding in the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. This bill would guarantee that women could not be fired or discriminated against for breast feeding or expressing milk during breaks from work.

Current medical research strongly recommends breast feeding at least during the first six months of an infant's life. Studies suggest that breast feeding wards off infection, fosters brain development, and lowers the risk of certain chronic diseases.

Combining breast feeding with firefighting is a challenge to both the woman and her department. Many new mothers choose to pump breast milk rather than have their babies brought to the fire station; both to prevent interruption from an emergency call while nursing and to insure a more healthful environment for feeding. Providing a clean, private place for a woman to pump milk is complicated when fire stations do not provide privacy for employees. Women may feel uncomfortable asking for consideration in this area and employers may not think to ask what is needed.

But the trend in the law is clear. Breast feeding, even at work, is something that is supported at all levels in society. Laws exist which guarantee rights in this area. Find out what laws apply to your jurisdiction, and be proactive about supporting women in this basic human function. When a spirit of cooperation exists, it is not that difficult to make it work.

Source: Associated Press, April 1, 2002


Linda F. Willing, 2002

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