If you want to lose control of your station, your crew and everything you have worked for your entire career, then go ahead and allow a rogue fireman to take control of your firehouse without any regard for your authority or anyone else’s well-being. We all know him. He, or she, is the fireman who shows up for work with a chip on his shoulder and acts as if everybody--including the department--owes him something. His constant whines and complaints, spewing from his mouth like toxic waste, will eventually contaminate the entire crew. He does not want to train, take initiative on anything, and constantly questions your decisions. Heck, he, doesn’t even help with the meals but expects to be served every night as if dining at a five-star resort. Sound familiar?
Do you know firemen like this? Unfortunately, they exist and are more common than I would like to admit. These people are so toxic to your firehouse, that they will eventually take you, the crew and everybody down with him. It is amazing how quickly their poison will spread. The problem is, it is true, that one spoiled apple does ruin the bunch. Even if the rest of your crew are top performers, the other shifts will put everyone into that same category as the toxic one. Unfortunately, this happens in many fire stations.
So, what do you do about it? Any leadership class, either in the public or private sector, will tell you to isolate this individual and get rid of him. Sure, that’s the easy thing to do; fire departments love to transfer problems from one station to another. It’s an easy way out. It makes us feel good; we got rid of the problem and now everyone is happy. Let another crew deal with this person. Sure, this works most of the time. Depending on which of three scenarios—This is what I would do.
1) If this employee has been with you for a while and all of a sudden goes rogue, then you really need to sit down and find out what’s going on in his or her personal life. Job-related personality conflicts? Financial issues? Marital problems? You really have to dig deep with this person. If he has issues outside of the fire department, then hopefully he will trust you and share his concerns with you. Heck, sometimes these people just need someone to talk to. If it’s a serious issue, though, then guide the individual to a professional. Sometimes this is all it takes to get him back on track. Word of caution: It is much easier to have a meaningful conversation with someone if they have been working with you for a while and you have developed an effective working relationship.
2) If this problem child was someone else’s problem and is now yours, then straightening him out is a greater challenge. First, and once again, sit him down and try to find out what is bothering. If his personal life is fine, but you find out that his issues come from work, then try and find out exactly what the problem is.
Is this something that you, as his new officer, can correct? Sometimes people just want more responsibility around the station. Sometimes they just don’t want to be screwed with and prefer to be left alone. There may be numerous reasons why this person is so miserable. Find out the cause, and, if something is within your scope to work with, then do it. Give the employee every opportunity to succeed and to change his ways. It’s worth a shot, but just one shot!
3) The last option is where we don’t want to go, but, unfortunately, the effectiveness of your firehouse is at stake. If you tried everything--and I mean everything--then, unfortunately, you need to have the Come to Jesus talk! Yep, he must know who is in charge and that his toxic behavior will no longer be tolerated. This individual must realize, unequivocally, that his behavior and attitude must change. You must tell him exactly what you expect and how he will act going forward. This is never an easy task, but you have no choice. A rogue employee, if not dealt with quickly, will take out your entire station.
You must save your Firehouse!