November/December 2002 Issue Number 41
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.
hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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International Conference of Fire Service Women April 23-27, 2003.
Denver, CO. Contact email@example.com
for more information.
February 9-13, 2003. Sacramento, CA.
Asking for Help
the wake of a devastating fire, a fire chief has come under harsh
criticism. It is not his firefighting strategy that is being derided,
nor his commitment to service or even the results of the firefighting
effort. The source of the criticism is this: the chief refused to
accept help when it was offered.
August 19, a large fire swept through the development known as Santana
Row in San Jose, California. While the fire was still burning, the
department got an offer to help investigate the fire from the Federal
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). The fire department
declined the offer, believing that they had the internal resources
to handle the investigation themselves. To date, the cause of the
fire remains undetermined.
is no guarantee that assistance from the ATF would have led to a different
outcome. What has brought criticism to the department is the fact
that they refused to accept help when it was offered, and apparently
service groups refusing help from others is not unique to this situation.
Reluctance to ask for help or cooperate with other agencies played
a role in the outcome of events on 9/11 in New York City. More recently,
challenges with interagency response were a key factor in response
to the sniper attacks in the Washington DC area..
to ask for help is a traditional value within the emergency services.
Emergency responders are quick to help others, but asking for help
is seen as a sign of weakness. This is a cultural norm learned early
in rookie school and often carried on throughout an entire career.
Asking for help lifting something indicates physical weakness. Asking
for extra engines to respond to an incident says that you can't handle
the situation yourself. Asking for help with personnel issues shows
that you are not really in charge.
is somewhat ironic in a profession as team oriented as the fire service,
that asking for help should be taboo. Indeed, helping one another
at an individual level is often valued and practiced. It is the organizational
level where things get complicated. Fire departments have a long history
of seeing themselves as autonomous, even as being in competition with
days are over. As the recent sniper emergency proved, it is impossible
for one agency to go it alone. According to the New York Times:
most large criminal investigations, local authorities are usually reluctant
to ask for help from federal law enforcement agencies; it is seen as
bad for morale, and many local police officers resent the FBI.
Chief Moose had asked for federal assistance; even as some in his
department wanted to conduct the investigation without outside aid.
law enforcement asks for help from federal law enforcement with a
lot of hesitation," Chief Moose said. "We've got to get
past it. Hopefully,
there is a lesson here that it can work. I might still have people
dying because I could not resolve my issues with the feds."
help is how firefighters and other emergency responders define themselves.
Asking for help is something they are hesitant to do. But as Chief Moose
said, we've got to get over that, or people could die. It's as simple
The New York Times, October 27, 2002
San Jose Mercury News, October 6, 2002
California has become the first state in the country to enact a comprehensive
paid family leave program for workers. "I don't want Californians
to choose between being good parents and good employees," said
Governor Gray Davis at the recent signing ceremony. The bill has been
denounced by some business groups, including the California Chamber
of Commerce, as being "one of the most economically damaging
pieces of legislation on the governor's desk."
Source: Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2002
City police and fire commissioners recently told City Council members
that common sense and personal interaction, not a formal command system,
should guide police officers' and firefighters' responses to major
emergencies. "Police personnel are not qualified to direct fire
personnel in carrying out their mission and neither are fire personnel
qualified to direct police. I don't think that type of system is appropriate
for New York City," said Police Commissioner Ray Kelly.
Source: Associated Press, October 8, 2002.
Winning is Losing
officer in Cook County, Illinois recently won a sex discrimination
and harassment lawsuit against her employer. She was awarded $300,000
in damages and her attorney received almost $1 million in fees and
costs. This was good news for the woman, until she got her tax bill.
That's when she found out that she would not only forfeit her entire
award to pay taxes on the amount, but she would also end up owing
the IRS around $99,000.
illogical situation was caused by 1996 amendments to the federal tax
laws that make awards for some nonphysical injuries taxable. In many
states, lawyers' fees are considered to belong to the plaintiff and
are therefore taxable to the individual who won the lawsuit. The attorneys
who receive the fees are also responsible for paying taxes on them,
thus resulting in a condition of double taxation on the same amount.
This kind of tax liability mostly results from employment discrimination
and civil rights cases.
tax situation is likely to have a chilling effect on people's willingness
to file lawsuits for discrimination and harassment. "I have to
advise a person coming to me that it is entirely possible not only
that any award they receive will go to the Internal Revenue Service
but that they will owe the Internal Revenue Service money," said
Monica McFadden, the attorney in the case.
result in these cases is unintended," said Stephen Cohen, a law
professor at Georgetown University. "Congress should amend the
law to allow a deduction in full for the attorney's fees." Legislation
is currently pending in Congress which would address this issue.
The New York Times, August 11, 2002.