As I wrote the title to this, I realized that it is more than a season. The campaign for President of the United States has been going on for seemingly forever! Regardless, this is a good time to refresh some of the basics regarding politics and how it relates to the job you have. As one ascends the ranks, politics becomes more important in the job description. I have polled many fire chiefs asking how important politics is to their job. It is obviously very important, and the vast majority gives it a seven or above on a scale of one to 10. When I ask how much preparation they have had, they usually say none. In other words, politics is an extremely important part of the job, yet we have little preparation other than our instincts and personal experiences.
There is an element of politics in every person’s job unless you are a hermit and never have to interact with anyone else. For an entry-level fire fighter, it is minimal, but the importance increases as one ascends the ranks. Those aspiring to higher positions must accept politics as an important part of the job and work to hone their skills and knowledge. Anytime a topic is identified as a major component of a job’s responsibilities, those wishing to excel should look for opportunities to improve in that area. This can be done through education, observation of others who are successful, and by seeking out mentors. There are things that can be done to make progress, which will lead to more success and less frustration.
There are some basics to consider when working with politicians or in a political arena. First and foremost: always treat them with respect and fairly even if you don’t agree with their positions. A failure to do so will result in some type of repercussion later on. Also remember that all (and I mean all, though some are more than others) have huge egos. They would not choose to run for office without a great sense of self-worth. Never let your ego get ahead of theirs. This is not good for long-term career stability if they remain in a position that controls your job position.
From a positive perspective, always recognize their attendance or appearance at an event or function. Introduce them and provide a brief compliment. Allow them a brief time to say a few words if at all possible. Don’t let them ramble and don’t stray too far from your agenda. If it is a social event, make the appropriate introductions. They will generally take over soon after the intro so you won’t need to say much! Always remember your manners—the things your mom taught you—like saying please and thank you, etc.
There are some basic things to remember. Most important is that politicians have long memories. They never seem to forget. This is for both the good and the bad. As far as the good, they value loyalty and mostly will respect anyone who demonstrates that trait. This is easy for those you agree with and more of a challenge when there is a disagreement. This is where you demonstrate your respect. I do not mean to imply that you need to compromise your beliefs, values, or morals. Tact and diplomacy are the keys and must be practices. As we all know, it isn’t necessarily what you said but how you said it.
In this election, season be aware of your surroundings. All of the news media are covering the election, and therefore it is on the minds of many, if not most, people. When striking up a conversation, the topic could arise. Be careful what you say and to whom you say it. You may not know who is nearby listening, whether or not you are being recorded, or if the person you are speaking to has a connection to a candidate. You need to remain polite and apolitical. Don’t assume that you are in safe territory. Keep your guard up and trust your “spider” senses.
We all can use a little refresher from time to time. There is also the chance to learn some new skills that can be beneficial to you and your organization. Every so often make an honest appraisal of what you know and don’t know, what your strengths and weaknesses are. From there, you can look for ways to improve. If politics is really a big part of your job, invest in education in this area. No matter who you are, there is always room to improve.
RICHARD MARINUCCI is the executive director of the Fire Department Safety Officers Association (FDSOA). He retired as chief of the Farmington Hills (MI) Fire Department in 2008, a position he had held since 1984. He is a Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment and Fire Engineering editorial advisory board member, a past president of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), and past chairman of the Commission on Chief Fire Officer Designation. In 1999, he served as acting chief operating officer of the U.S. Fire Administration for seven months. He has a master’s degree and three bachelor’s degrees in fire science and administration and has taught extensively.