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We can trace core values back to several places. We get them from our upbringings with parents or other family members, from our church, and several others. They are the guiding principles on how and why we make decisions in our lives and in our work. The core values we have in our personal life may not always mirror the same ones we have in our organizations. Often times they are still good values and even carried into our personal lives may still have application and meaning.

Most every Fire Department, and really, every organization for that matter has a set of core values. These values are what sets the tone for the organization. As a fire department they are whats in the back of our minds as we treat patients, respond and perform at fires, lead our members, select company officers and much more. Are we modeling our behavior on these core values? I was in the military and took core values very seriously, as did most of you who served. I still feel the same way about the core values in my department. They are extremely important and should be on the forefront of every decision made by the new rookie to the Fire Chief.

I would be lying through my teeth if I told you I haven’t fallen short of my obligation to stay true to the core values of my organization. I try like hell not to. I have certainly made mistakes and I try to learn and grow from them to avoid making them again. We are all human beings and we will never be perfect. There will be times when all of us will be off the mark. As long as these core values become more than a laminated card that hangs on the wall, we won’t just pay lip service to them. Your departments core values should be something you have committed to memory and are visual every single day you walk into the firehouse. Below are the core values of my organization. The abbreviation is simple and easy to remember for us firefighters: Air PSI, pretty easy to remember that.


A         Accountability: Take ownership and responsibility for individual and team actions and remain focused on the priorities of the City of Norfolk and Norfolk Fire-Rescue.


I           Integrity: Model honest and trustworthy behavior through an inclusive and customer-oriented government. Ensure that actions are based on an ethical character and a positive reputation both on and off duty. Communication that is consistent, accurate and complete will build public and organizational trust. Do the right thing, the right way. Your actions and words reflect your thoughts and your values.


R         Respect: Treat all with dignity and courtesy by listening, empathizing and valuing opinions and perspectives. Treat others fairly and equitably. Our actions and words support a healthy, civil and positive environment. Harassment in any form is unacceptable.


P          Professionalism: Obtaining, maintaining and enhancing personal knowledge, skills and abilities to ensure the delivery of the highest quality service at all times.


S          Safety: Continuous regard for the welfare of self and others through commitment and compliance with department orders and safety standards.


I           Innovation: Support continuous improvement and demonstrate a civic entrepreneurial attitude by generating new ideas, advancing best practices and effectively operating as a team. Share knowledge by serving as a mentor.


Maybe you have something similar to the core values described above. The bottom line is are we all meeting the expectations and driving our organizations forward by following them? Don’t allow your core values to be a punch line or just some piece of paper that is mounted in a dark corner of your firehouses. As leaders in our organizations these have to be important to us. If these aren’t important to the Fire Chief, if he or she is not making decisions, promotions, or other hard choices based off these words, than their own words may be taken as hollow by the line staff. This goes for other Chief Officers, and Company Officers as well. If you ask me the Company Officer plays the most critical role here. If your firefighters see that you are following these values and living up to them, it will give them confidence. It will make them want to climb up the ranks with you because they see the inspiration that can come from it. If they see us, or their Chiefs failing constantly at following them, why on earth would they want to join the ranks? Some will because they want to display the opposite behavior, but there will be some who lose all trust in leadership. Whether your core values mirror the ones above, or you have a different set of your own, give them meaning!

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Comment by Michael D. Staats on August 4, 2015 at 10:10am

I was on the committee that created our original 12 core values. Chief Senter wanted us to create realistic expectations for the department and over a 6 month period we accomplished that. When Chief Wise became the new Chief, he wanted to shorten the list to make it more in line with the City Managers core values and also make it easier to present and start enforcing from the first day of the Academy. The group was brought together once again to brainstorm and the AIRPSI was the end result. I must give credit to the creator of the AIRPSI abbreviation: It was Battalion Chief John Dibacco who coined the term that I am proud to see is still in use. I was very honored to have been a small cog in the big wheel of the creation and later revamping of our Core Values and am very proud to see they are taken to heart and held in esteem to this day.

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