There’s a Bully in the (Fire)house!

by | December 12, 2018

I am surprised how much I hear about bullying in the firehouse. In my job at the academy, I speak to so many new recruits, and it seems everyone has a story about a probie who resigned from a department or the fire service all together. Their experiences have given them a totally different outlook toward the fire service. And it’s not good!

Now I know there will be those who say, “It’s the millennials. They’re soft—bunch of snowflakes. They just don’t make ’em like they used to!” But the truth is many are outstanding young men and women who excelled in the academy. They come from first-, second-, third-generation firefighter families. Some of them have served tours of duty overseas, fighting ISIS and other terrorist organizations—and the fire service is breaking their spirits?

Open the Daily Dispatch or any site that covers fire service news. Here are just a few examples:

  • FDNY investigates drunken brawl among firefighters (New York Post)
  • Spokane Fire issues punishment following harassment investigation (FireLawBlog)
  • Instead of fighting fires, they were fighting each other, prosecutors say (Washington Post)
  • Fire chief headbutts on-duty firefighter (U.S. News)
  • Pennsylvania town suspends entire fire department over racial slurs, bullying (The Hill)
  • I was sexually assaulted by FDNY firefighters on my first day (New York Post)

The fire service is a close-knit community. We don’t always do a good job embracing difference. In fact, sometimes we attack it.

Is it them—or is it us? The fire service is a close-knit community. We don’t always do a good job embracing difference. In fact, sometimes we attack it. While you clearly know when you’re headbutting a firefighter, a lot of bullying behavior is inadvertent. Consider these behaviors and ask yourself, do I engage in them?

  • Using insulting or teasing nicknames. When George W. Bush was president, the media covered how he invented nicknames for the people he interacted with frequently. Now, many of these names were harmless, and I’m not here to make the case that President Bush was a bully. But there’s a big different between calling someone “My Man Mitch” (his nickname for budget director Mitch Daniels) and “Turd Blossom” (his supposed nickname for Karl Rove). If you’re calling people names you know their friends and family don’t use, it’s probably time to stop.
  • Yelling or screaming in the firehouse. Do you catch yourself shouting at others, getting into heated verbal arguments, or berating others? Besides just being unpleasant, you could be the station bully.
  • Shunning specific firefighters. Meetings and social events in the fire station should not be popularity contests. They should include everyone. If you’re leaving people out, or refusing to work with specific individuals, that’s a warning sign.
  • Messing around with firefighters’ personal property. It may seem fun to cover a firefighter’s locker in shaving cream or hide someone’s bathrobe or fill a shampoo bottle with corn syrup. But it’s a violation of personal space, and it’s very easy to get out of control.

Think you might have some “bully behavior” in you? Check out a previous article I wrote for some tips on how to keep it in check.

Want to learn more? View the on-demand free webinar offered by Lexipol, “Can’t We All Just Get Along? How to Stop Bullying and Promote Positive Firehouse Behavior.”

SAM DIGIOVANNA is a 35-year fire service veteran. He started with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, served as Fire Chief at the Monrovia Fire Department, and currently serves as Chief at the Verdugo Fire Academy in Glendale. He is also a Senior Consultant for Lexipol’s Cordico wellness solution.

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