Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
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Grand Lake, CO
80447
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Consider This... October 2017 Issue Number 207

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.

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Upcoming Events  

The IAFF Human Relations Conference will be held January 28-31, 2018 in Orlando, FL.

Now available! On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories by Linda F. Willing. This book features interviews with over 35 women firefighters from the United States and Canada. The book is available from major online booksellers, and signed copies may be ordered through this website.

 

In the News

Respect

Here's the official story: a firefighter responded with his crew to a house fire. The initial attack was over but the fire still burned and the fire department had gone into defensive mode. The crew was outside the building and had taken off their SCBAs. Then a woman showed up, the resident where the fire occurred. Distraught over a missing pet, she runs past the fire crew into the house.

One firefighter runs in after her, without protective gear. He follows her up to the third floor and is able to get her safely from the burning building. They are both treated and released from the local hospital.

The result of this incident was that the firefighter was commended for his rescue of the woman. Then he was reprimanded for going into the building without his SCBA. He was ordered by the chief to write an essay about why his action at the scene was wrong.

In response to this event, the firefighter said about the chief, "He was very, in my opinion, very sarcastic to me, very disrespectful to me. He wasn't happy with what I did and told me I was going to have to write him an essay." And then the firefighter quit the job.

I have no doubt that there is a lot more to this story than was printed in the paper. But the incident does bring up important points about the importance of respect in workplace relationships.

Ask firefighters who leave the job before a full career why they quit and you'll often hear a common theme. I didn't feel included, valued, recognized, respected. I felt I could contribute more and feel more personal satisfaction elsewhere.

I don't know the history with this incident. Maybe the essay had nothing to do with the firefighter's decision to leave the job. Or maybe it was the straw that broke the camel's back. In any case, this incident is a good reminder of the importance of maintaining relationships of respect, in all circumstances.

Source: abcnews4.com, September 5, 2017

 

News Brief

A female fire officer has filed a lawsuit against her volunteer fire department, claiming that she was demoted from her officer's position due to her status as a mother. She said her fire chief told her she needed to prioritize time with her six year old son, while two men with young children were subsequently promoted.

Source: pennlive.com, September 12, 2017

 

Sexual Harassment Update

Honorable and Faithful

A fire captain with more than 30 years on the job had a commendable service record as a firefighter, but was also a person who had harassed a number of women on the job. Although the harassment was not formally reported until late in the officer's career, the behavior was widely known as it often occurred with witnesses present, and had led at least one female officer to refuse to work in his station. When formal charges were finally filed, the captain at first denied most of the 21 complaints made against him, but later admitted to the majority of accusations, explaining himself by saying he was a "dinosaur" who had trouble keeping up with changing times. He asked to be allowed to retire.

The fire department did not accept this request, and followed through with termination. As a result of being terminated for cause, the captain at first lost part, and then all, of his pension benefits. The logic used in this decision was that pension benefits were awarded for "honorable and faithful service" and the captain had violated these terms with his conduct.

On the one hand, it is tempting to cheer this decision. This captain's bad behavior was egregious and persistent and he was in a position of power and authority. His conduct was harmful enough to the women directly affected by it, but he also set a toxic example for everyone he worked with, influencing the culture of the organization.

But on the other hand, who gets to decide what constitutes a breach of honorable and faithful service? The court decision goes to great lengths, mostly citing a precedent case of a police officer who regularly used cocaine off duty. The court wrote, "In our view, these plain English terms are understandable to a person of ordinary intelligence.”

I'm not sure I agree. If using cocaine is an obvious disqualifier, what about marijuana? What if it's legal, just not permitted by the organization? The court talks about an offense resulting in a $10 fine obviously not rising to the disqualifying standard. But what about $100 fine? Or a thousand?

And what about all the people who knew exactly what was going on over the years, and did nothing? What about their honorable and faithful service?

In no way do I excuse this captain, and I feel he deserves the consequences of his actions. But I am not sure it serves justice for him to stand alone on this.

Source: THEODORE PRIESTER, JR. v. BOARD OF APPEALS OF BALTIMORE COUNTY Circuit Court for Baltimore County Case No. 03-C-15-012485

 

 

 

 

© Linda F. Willing, 2017