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Is freelancing a routine part of your fireground? How is it addressed prior to an incident or when it occurs, after the incident. Who is held accountable for it? What happens to freelancers and/or their officers? Has it become an accepted way of doing things? If you were an officer (and maybe you are) how would you address it before, during, and after an incident?

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We mutual aid a dept that never gives any arrival instructions, the last box alarm I made there we were 2nd due, we coordinated assignments with the 3rd due, also a mutual unit, while enroute and operated per SOP of our departments. It still feels like freelancing though since you are not operating under the established IC. Anyone have any thoughts on this, good or bad?

If I'm reading you right brother, the dept you assisted had no one in charge? That right there is a receipe for disaster. I see what you are saying, but at least you and the 3rd due were on the same page, hopefully, there wasn't much to the box. My place gets 3 auto aid companies on a first alarm, plus our 2 engines. Our chiefs, set up an IC for all arriving companies. If the chiefs aren't there, one of the captains is IC per our protocols and we operate the same way. We do, at times, run into the problem you described, when we run assist calls. Sometimes it's tough to tell the chiefs from the indians. Keep you company safe on calls like you decribed. Try talking to the bosses, nicely, explain your concerns, at least you're making an effort to keep all parties safe.

Stay Safe
You have all hit this on the head. Nothing really new here; training, command, discipline, leadership and so on. You all sound like you are doing it right and making a difference. I really believe that this is where company drills and strict adherence to guidelines come into play. The more cohesive unit you have both at the company level and the organization level, the less free lancing takes place. Examples of mutual aid just hit home the need for interagency trainings and good relationships with mutual aid departments. I understand completely about being told to do a bonehead task by less than stellar officer and that is where these chief's meetings are supposed to address those issues, if they attend.

Keep on keeping on and leading by example and hopefully the guys/gals coming up will do better in the future!
Hey Chief here goes;

Having been on several departments covering several different capacities I blame freelancing on weak CO's and poor training.

Starting with training we need to instill discipline, pride, respect and integrity. Make the student firefighter from the start realize that they are part of a bigger picture. Eliminate the “ME” or “lone wolf” attitude. Like military and para military training the instructors cannot be the student’s friend. You’re a role model and need to maintain that. The lack of following the chain of command is a training issue. Instill chain of command from day one and maintain that throughout the career of your firefighters. Lately I have witnessed that if a student has an issue with an instructor they just by- pass the instructor and move on. That’s crazy!!!!!! This sends a message that we never fix the problem we move it so it becomes some other officers problem. How often these days do we hear “so and so has been on every squad” or "so and so has been at every station and they are still lazy and weak". I personally feel that more than one instructor should have interaction with the recruit or recruit class. This avoids personality issues. If both or multiple instructors have similar issues with a specific firefighter recruit it’s time to let them go before they hit the line. Don’t move a problem deal with it.

The fire service has changed a lot in the last few years. As a result of newer construction, better regulations and more stringent inspections the working fires have decreased in most areas. So the job related stress level one would see during a firefighter’s probation period many not be observed. How one follows directions and orders under stress is a big sign of how they perform under stress. In the past we would combine proper training and a probationary period to reel the Probie in so that they fit in with the team or crew and act as one not independently. This was done during the numerous fire ground observations made of the Probie. So with fire volume down we try to create controlled stress in the training environment to see how our future firefighters react and cope. But the new kinder way of training says the training environment needs to be stress free. Would you want a Navy SEAL or Recon Marine to say time out during a gun fight with the enemy? I think not. Can you imagine the Navy SEAL team who has a wild card assigned to them? Are they as effective as a disciplined cohesive team? Simply, no they are not. We need to maintain the controlled level of stress and instill our core values in our recruits over and over until it is second nature. Rick Lasky and John Salka point to the United States Marine Corp and how the Marines totally rebuild the person. Once a Marine always a Marine is the attitude we should duplicate.

As a Training Officer and Instructor in both Law Enforcement and Firefighting capacities I have seen a decline in the hard core attitude and discipline displayed by my first training instructors. And to be honest I am sick over it. I have attended basic training classes where the recruits are not dressed alike, allowed to jaw back and forth, allowed to leave early and not clean up, no uniformity in gear storage, allowed to show up late, no uniform personal appearance standards, and joke with instructors. My God no wonder discipline in public service is fading fast. The simple tasks of physical training as one group, uniform standards and even marching build team attitudes and remove the ME slowly. Now PT is a voluntary activity in some places. Are we crazy? No physical training for recruits in a job as dangerous and physically demanding as the fire service. Personally it goes back to kids not being allowed to keep score in sports or schools passing every child as to not hurt some ones feelings. If we push our students then we get to see who rises to the top of the class.
Make training job specific. Physical training is a huge part of the fire service as is discipline. The need to be fit, listen to orders and follow orders is what saves lives, ours and the publics. If you can’t follow orders in training and cannot conform to standards in training, what do you think will happen at the scene of a fire? I will bet we have created a Firefighter Freelancer. A freelancer thinks of themselves over the company, station, battalion, division and department. This cannot be tolerated.

And later what happens when we need to give an order that must be followed without hesitation, is this a time to debate that order with our friend?

That brings us to the weak Officer. We know our pal the Officer who is one of the boys or girls not a true leader. You know this Officer when you relive their shift or fill in on OT. The rig is a mess, nothing is checked, the station looks like a frat party gone bad and if the equipment was used at a job it still needs to be cleaned and serviced. They even look like one of the crew, shaggy looking and disorganized. What example does this set? I bet a very poor example at best.
The weak leader leads by committee, running all tasks by their crew, never taking the bull by the horns or blaming the higher up’s for all tasks that the members do not like. A weak leader makes statements like this. “I know you guys hate to inspect the rig and clean it but Chief McNasty is a real Son of a Gun and busts chops about this stuff so let’s just get it done”. Oh please grow up and be a leader not a coward. I bet this supervisor never stands up for their crew either. Why don’t they stand up for their crew? Simple they are weak and undisciplined, so even if a crew member is correct the weak Officer gets run over by the BC and can’t even explain the actions of the crew, right or wrong.

This is the same Officer who while responding to the call is not thinking about the multiple situations that they may face, they are jawing with the crew about lunch or weekend plans and not assigning the firefighters to tasks as the radio updates the call information. This already empowers the freelance attitude.

Is this Officer thinking about being first due, second due or what type of structure they are responding to? No they are the one who wants the rig to slow down and let the other company take the lead. Now imagine that you are a Probie on this Officers crew. No one cares or has any pride, discipline or self respect. What happens to you? Well your moral suffers as does your training and pride in the job. When all this suffers so does your level of safety and the safety of those around you.

Now this Officer has arrived on scene and you are the IC. You know the Officer is a train wreck and so is the crew. The crew has no leadership and even with orders you know you have to divide your time between the actual incident and Officer Apathetic and the crew of misfits. What goes through your mind as IC now? Well safe bet it is, Oh God where are they going and what are they doing, will they do what I tell them, will they vent in the right place, will they bring their hose to the right location and not push the fire further into the structure or on top of another crew?

Now here comes the freelancing mess. Freelancing promotes an unsafe environment for all firefighters and to the firefighters who is off on their own without authority. Accountability suffers so your Officers are spending less time directing fire ground activity and more time keeping tabs on undisciplined firefighters and Officers. Don’t let freelancing be confused for working remotely. The remote firefighter is one of the most disciplined, accountable and trustworthy members you have working for you. One would hope one of the most seasoned too.

How do we deal with these actions? Start from day one in training. Discipline, integrity, pride and ownership needs to be instilled as core values and beliefs. The recruit firefighter needs to have positive role models and skilled disciplined Officers to lead them. Teach your CO’s the leadership qualities you want to have them display and lead by. Give them the tools they need to be strong capable leaders. Reinforce your core values of discipline, integrity and pride. Mentor your people and take an active role in their development. This needs to take part at every level of your department, from recruit training, to Probie development, Firefighters continuing education, Officer Leadership training to Command level training and mentoring. We need to lead by example and set the bar high.

If an isolated incident occurs then we have the training and mentoring in place at every level to address the situation as soon as possible. Pull the member who freelanced aside and review the breach of SOP’s along with the possible associated dangers and negative impact of the fire ground operation. If the freelance action is caught in the act stop it right then and there. Correct it and redirect the member. Then treat the misdeed the same as if you detected the freelancing action in a post fire operation review. For the first offense (as long as no injuries occurred) a first level supervisor’s verbal reprimand should suffice. If injuries occur the totality of the situation needs to be considered and discipline should be consistent with the violation. Progressive discipline should apply from the first incident forward. If the issue persists then mandatory retraining as a part of progressive discipline should be applied. If there are numerous incidents we as leaders need to look outside the box to see if others issues exist. Are there problems with children, home, family or finances that may be leading the member to be distracted and lose focus? Now we need to look at E.A.P programs, counseling and support groups to help with the situation.

Until the completion of proper training it is our fault as leaders in the department if a member freelances. We need to hold the freelancer accountable for their own actions once they are properly trained. If the freelancer responds to training but reverts back to freelancing on fire scenes we need to look into the issue a bit deeper. Is there an inability to function under real stress situations, is there a weak leader in the fold or is our training the issue? Are we providing training that the member can understand? Is our training consistent with our fire ground SOP’s? If we have determined that the training or supervision is the issue then we need to correct the problem and take responsibility for that fowl up. If it is training we now need to train our entire membership on the correct SOP’s for fire ground actions and accountability. If our supervision is the issue we need to determine at what level supervision has failed and correct that issue. If it is the member that fails to resolve the issue even after training, retraining and discipline then we need to consider cutting ties with the offending member.

I think you sparked a great topic for debate. I got on my soap box on this one; it is a serious issue that could have deadly effects in all aspects of my professional life as well as all members of public service. I hope that I provided some equally good topics for discussion or thought.

Stay Safe

Don Huneke
-Don... wow,. your comments are a welcome song to my ears, specifically in regards to the training environment.
-Of late I have heard grumbling from some members about the attitude and atmosphere in our training academy. Like many larger FD's we operate our own training academy and the environment is akin to Boot Camp. Lots of uniformity, lots of discipline, rules, regs... etc.
-Those that complain about it or simply regard it as a mind game have really missed the point and the objective of the training academy environment; instilling tools, techniques, procedures, the ability to handle stress and the understanding and capability to perform tasks as well as adherence to the rules pride in oneself as well as the organization as a whole.
-In order for all this to take hold and be burt into the "hard drive", as in the military environment, the individual must be broken down first. That being said, a commensurate building up and mentoring process must also take place and be as thorough. We must also foster an attitude of problem solving and thinking so as to not crush or dismiss creativity within the individual while the individual remembers that they are part of and serving something larger then themselves.
-The training environment is when all this takes place and values are instilled for the duration of a career.
Don and Brick,

Thanks for the pick me up today, the points brought up in your posts, hit the nail squarely on the head. I deal with folks that like to walk in that gray area, everyday! When I wake them up from their little nap, I'm the bad guy, but that works for me. One of my members, that one Brick wouldn't trade me for, could get us hurt, if we caught a fire now. This person has been told they stay within arms length, due to the freelancing issue. Sorry for the minor vent guys, your posts struck a chord.

I like all the replies to this. It is not too much of a problem on today's firegroud, is it? If it wasn't, there would not be as many posts. You are all on target, but I'd like to go a step further and blame the organziation. You can never be better than your boss. It is the responsibility of the organization from day zero to set the tone and the expectations. Poor perfromers come about as a result of poor direction, not becaure they are bad seeds. Lackluster departments , Chiefs, and CO's plant bad seeds and when they grow into bad firefighters, we all wondewr why. When a guy (or girl) knows what is expected, and what will and will not be tolerated, and these issues are enforced at a ll times, you are getting the probie off on the right foot. In regards to the academy, the parameters on the way a probie acts should be spelled out before they go there so they know what they are expected to do. Too often, we do not set parameters and ground rules and then wonder why things do not go as we wanted. Spell it out first, enforce it consistently, andf always keep them on thier toes.
In regard to all other things, the CO must be the leader and be accountable for ALL the actions of their subordinates. The Chiefs must enforce and support all proper acgtions and never turn thier head. This requies constant work and remember we are not in a popularity contest. The bars on the CO's collars stand for 1. Conflict, 2. confrontation. If they are not prepared to live in that environment, thye will alwys be just around the corner from disaster. To take this a step further, if the Chiefs of that shift or the dept are lazy and "turn thier head" to these things, the dept will never get to where it is meant to go, the CO's will not be sharp, and all the things that break down the organization willl occur on a routine basis. It is NEVER the fault of the firefighter. It is always the fault of the CO and ultimately the Chief Officer. Communicate your expectations all the time. Never allow a breach in your command in regard to safety. If it looks and feels wrong, it probably is -- fix it -- that's is why u wear those things on your collar. And once u blame the organization, you are headed for supervisory disaster -- u r the organization. if u do not agree, step up and fix the issue and/ot make your concerns known. The fire service has too many problem-finders. We need more problem-solvers. We are great at what we do -- we need to be better. We don't kill 110 FF's a year and injure 80,000 becasue people are always doing the right thing. Out there soemwhere, there are 110 supervisors and 110 departments that wish they had another chance to do the rtight thing and change someone's thinking. If they don't, they are continuing to mark the steps that lead to another casulaty. What happens in the soft environment always impacts what happens in the hard environment -- this included station activities and tranng -- it's easiest to fix things here -- not so easy on the fireground
be safe brothers and sisters
hope 2 c u all in indy
In my department, which is a combination dept., freelancing is a VERY big problem. People many times do what ever they have to because they either want to get a burn up helmet or claim later that they put out the fire. As for how it is handled, this is the area that is lacking the most. Again, since it is a combination dept. of which the volunteers are usually the culprits, it all depends on the company officers. If you are a member of my company and you went off on the fire ground to do your own thing, our chief would have a field day with you and you could very much so expect to be suspended. Many other places, lets just say it is quite the opposite, many of the officers will not do anything or at a maximum you would get a little slap on the wrist and do it again on the next job. Why is this happening? Because people are all about seeing some red and not looking at the whole picture as one sound group of people doing their jobs for a common goal. In my area, we catch a pretty good amount of fire, people get over confident after their fist few and think they know it all and can do what they want. It is a major issue that really needs to be addressed, but to tell you the truth, until all of the officers and higher ups, accept one way of doing things (which would probably never happen on the volunteer side due to the tension between dept.'s), nothing will be fixed, is it sad? YES. But in my area it is something that you have to learn to deal with and overcome it as you attempt to do your job, whether its put water on the fire or RIT on the front lawn.

Freelancing is not a preferred part of our fireground, but realistically it does happen. Freelancing is usually done by newer guys with no ill intentions. They are not trying to usurp the powers to be. They are just trying to do a good and job and impress the older dogs on scene. They want to be aggressive and they want to make a difference. This I will never fault a firefighter for, but freelancing is dangerous and has no place on scene. I am trying to implement a new word into our vocabulary called "FREETHINKING." Freethinking is when we acknowledge who is in charge of the company or the scene, but this does not limit the minds and imagination of everyone else. I want firefighters to be freethinking and self motivated. If I send two guys to the roof and tell them I need ventilation 10 minutes ago, I do not want them to follow my orders blindly and get up on a bad roof that is self vented or unstable at best. I want those guys to say to me, the roof is self vented in the rear or the roof is compromised, etc...I will then take what they say under advisement and readjust. I do not want to tell a firefighter throw a ladder to 2nd floor window. He should know to do this if the situation calls for it. As firefighters, we are trained to trust our officers and follow them into the depths of hell. I am saying now, that as officers we have to be trained to trust our firefighters and trust their assessments, size ups, and ideas. Does this mean that we have given up command to every and anybody who wants it? NO. Does this mean that we are wishy washy and do not have a plan of attack that we can stick to? NO. Does this mean that we can not be trusted to command a proper and safe evolution? No. This means that as Officers, we have to KNOW our guys and their strengths and weaknesses. I got a guy on my crew who is an electrical contractor. Why wouldn't I trust him when he says, " The meter is double fed, or bypassed, etc... and we need the power company to shut the power at the pole instead of pulling the meter ourselves?" I got another guy who is a roofer. When he tells me, LT...this roof has a bad pitch for walking and working, I have to take this under advisement. Now, in the very same breath, I know that when I tell these guys to get something done or if I say, "hey, I know it's hot but we can get this one." The follow me without question or hesitation. My God! is there anything better than having a crew that you trust and that trusts you. Usually, we do not even have to talk that much. They know what I want and I know where they are and how they are thinking. So, if someone freelances on scene. I stop them right then and there and say "where is your officer and what is your assignment? Go get with him and get your job done." After the incident, I would call that firefighter to the side and explain to him the dynamic if danger that is ever present and how accountability is important. I have to be accountable for him and he is accountable for his duties and actions. Being a Truck Officer, the dynamics of Truck work is based on Freethinking. My guys have to be able to operate without me and readjust to situations that present themselves. And they do this seamlessly and with a smile. I thank Allah(God) for my crew and I pray that he enables me physically and mentally to protect them and keep them safe. Sorry for rambling. I guess I'll bring in some donuts next shift for my guys.


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