Integrity and personal accountability are two individual level traits that challenge not only interpersonal relationships and the brotherhood but the overall trust in departments as a whole.
These certainly are not new issues to us. Any time you have human beings involved in making choices of any kind there will be some who make decisions that offer no legitimate benefit to them selves, their relationships or the larger works of their organizations.
So why then is this becoming such a big issue for us?
I believe it’s because of cultural and technological changes that allow everyone to find out about individual actions so quickly.
As a society our attention span on average has become less than that of a gold fish. Literally.
That fact coupled with an increasing level of need for personal public acknowledgement, a need for instant gratification and a culture that feels it’s ok to publically ‘attack without fact’ and borrow or steel the works of others puts us on a fast track to making poor choices.
Our brains are slowly being rewired to act without considering the potential consequences.
There is a constant pounding of material into our brains through reality TV, social media, the news and pop culture that reinforces these negative behaviors. There are shows that pit people against people, internet posts that attack or attempt to delegitimize individuals or organizations, and public pundits who comment without thought, all consumed by a culture that feeds off it like it’s sugar.
Inevitably this ridiculous behavior has seeped into the fire service.
We have personnel, who I will not call firefighter’s or firemen because they do not live up to the core values of our service, who down individual firefighters, officers and organizations without knowing them or the first thing about their departments.
We have personnel who are stealing other instructor’s materials and passing it off as their own.
We have people launching fire and forget comments on social media about short video clips or photographs of incidents with no context at all of what was really happening.
We have personnel commenting on incident strategy and tactics employed by department’s who’ve never been to similar incidents in their whole career.
There are individuals or organizations who attempt do discredit or delegitimize the efforts of others for their own personal gain.
So I ask you how does this live up to the standards set forth by those who’ve gone before us? Those who worked so hard to build up our service? Those who have paid with their lives in the name of what we do?
How does this live up to the expectations of the people we are here for? How can they continue to support us, hand off their children to us and let us into their homes if we stray from the principles that make up the foundation of the fire service?
How can we look at each other and have the trust, trust that is so vital to what we do, if in the times outside of incident response we’re cutting each others throats, stabbing each other in the back, trying to bring others down and representing the fire service with very poor decision making and then posting it all on social media?
How does that trust develop between brothers? How can we feel that you’ll be there for us in our time of need when you spend all of your other time tearing us down?
How does the public support and trust you when they are hit with news of firefighters fighting with each other, committing crimes and acting like fools on social media?
At the foundation level we need to operate with strong core values and we need integrity to be at the heart of that value system.
Those values must be the blood that runs through and gives life to everything we do.
It must be the basis for the trust that we build with everyone we interact with from our brothers and sisters to other departments to the public which we serve.
Samuel Johnson, a British scholar and writer, wrote back in the 1700’s that “There can be no friendship without confidence, and no confidence without integrity.”
I think that can be updated for the fire service to say “There can be no brotherhood without confidence, and no confidence without integrity.”
We are our brothers keeper. That is not s sentiment we just drag out when the time is right. That is 24/7/365 from the day you sign up to the day you die. If that isn’t you, than you’re nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing and have no place in this service.
“It’s not about me it’s about we and we are here for them.”
I believe in this statement whole heartedly but in reality it is a little about me. I have to have core values, I have to make the choices based on what’s right and I have to be committed to doing that all the time.
If we fail to employ that value system, then there can’t be a collective ‘we’ as we will be only serving our individual needs.
And if there is no ‘we’, then it is ‘them’ who will suffer. And if ‘they’ are suffering then ‘we’ have failed.
Take a look at yourself. A real look. Don’t just look at the person you’ve convinced yourself is you. Look at your actions. Listen to your talk. Evaluate those you associate with.
Is everything there what it should be? Could you be proud of your actions and defend them to the elderly woman who sits on the porch down the street or the little boy who waves as you go by?
If not, then you have some work to do. Don’t get swallowed up by our society and the declining value system it operates on.
Stand up. Be a Fireman. Do what is right. Do what you swore you would. Do your part to keep our service alive and thriving. Live up to the expectation established by those before us and raise the bar for those who will come next.
Be your brother’s keeper and be there for ‘them’ not just when they call, but at all times. Be there for ‘them’ by allowing them to trust we are who we say we are.
Be smart and do you job!