Your fire commissioners approve requests for needed equipment, apparatus, and training. Your chief officers research and implement the best of the best training and drill programs. Volunteers are becoming more and more interested in showing up for training and honing their craft. Yet in spite of all of these positive improvements, it seems something is sucking the life blood out of your department.
If this sounds all too familiar, rest assured, you’re not alone.
Here at the ranch, we have chickens and a small chicken coup. We enjoy our chickens and the neighbors enjoy getting eggs. We work hard to make sure that our small flock is well cared for, fed, watered, and that their living environment is the best that it can be. In spite of the care and nurturing we offer, a few weeks ago, something literally started sucking the life blood out of our flock. The culprit; a weasel. Apparently, weasels (ours happens to be a mink) will watch the flock and wait till they’re vulnerable. Then, it will sneak in and literally behead a chicken to get to the blood. The aftermath (at least ours) was quite remarkable. No scattered feathers, no blood bath, just a lifeless beheaded chicken. Two or three days later, same thing. The weasel just started picking them off, one at a time.
Despite all your best efforts to improve your rural department, is there a weasel or two amongst your ranks? Are you one of the department weasels without realizing it? Department weasels are those who watch, listen, and learn (training, drills, department involvement) just to the point where they think they know more than everyone else, often times especially including the chief. The old saying is: “A little knowledge can be very dangerous.” A couple of good training sessions and a keyboard do not make you the “ultimate firefighter,” nor does it make you smarter than those who make the decisions for the department. These empowered weasels work their way through the department, talking smack behind the scenes and undermining progress and morale—all the while sucking its life blood until either the weasel(s) get someone or themselves hurt, the weasel is eliminated, or the department ceases to function properly. Make no mistake though: department weasels exist within the ranks, from probies to gold badges. So, now what?
DTRT: Doing the Right Thing
DTRT is probably one of the most narrowly interpreted and applied acronyms in today’s fire service. That said, how do we do the right thing when it comes to applying it to weasels and chickens? First, don’t be a chicken that hangs out and waits for a weasel to suck your department’s blood. Doing the right thing for a department chicken means being bold enough to confront the weasel in an appropriate manner as a brother or sister firefighter should. Many times the weasel doesn’t know that he or she is such and just needs a word or two from a trusted soul. If you realize that you are one of the weasels, do the right thing and stop it. It’s just that easy. Get back on track and be a team player for your own sake, the sake of the department, and those you’re sworn to serve.
Remember, DTRT, shouldn’t just apply to the job. Ask yourself the question: Is being a firefighter what I do, or is it who I am? Certainly the fire service is a part of each of us, and it really is in our blood. But if I don’t apply DTRT as equally at the local pub or at home with my family and friends as I do on the job, am I really doing the right thing? Doing the right thing should be a human being thing, not just a fire service thing. Imagine the world we live in if a few more people took the time to really do the right thing instead of just being weasels and chickens.
CARL J. HADDON is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment editorial advisory board and the director of Five Star Fire Training LLC, which is sponsored, in part, by Volvo North America. He served as assistant chief and fire commissioner for the North Fork (ID) Fire Department and is a career veteran of more than 25 years in the fire and EMS services in southern California. He is a certified Level 2 fire instructor and an ISFSI member and teaches Five Star Auto Extrication and NFPA 610 classes across the country.