Shiners, Whiners and Recliners

CarolinaFireJournal - Douglas Cline
Douglas Cline
10/10/2014 -

I have heard a lot of analogies over my career about the fire service, “You can peal one fire department name off the wall and replace it with another one and it would be the same” and “it is the same circus but with different clowns.” The more I hear this type of talk the more I have come to realize that we have some really big issues at hand that need immediate attention. I have witnessed many events and issues over the years and recently listened to a guest speaker at church talk about recent situations he was in and how his staff reacted. The first thought that came to mind was the fire service. I know that many folks are going to say here is a negative attitude about to come out. Well, it just might be but it is reality and we have to face that it is what it is and address it. We have three types of folks in the fire service: Shiners, Whiners and Recliners. So which are you? Let’s take a look at all three and identify their characteristics.


The group known as the shiners in the fire service are the backbone of keeping the fire service moving and getting the work accomplished. These individuals work tirelessly in an effort to make the fire service more professional, safer and better educated. They work to improve the safety of the community and give of themselves tirelessly. They truly care about the people they serve both internal and external to the organization. These are the same people who get chastised by their peers for their efforts, even when they are the ones being helped. So why do Shiners get criticized so much? I recently had a department’s deputy chief tell me, “the more we do, the more they are going to expect and that will keep us having to do more, we need to coast for a while. We need to slow some of these folks down so we are not expected to do as much.”

The Shiners are self-motivated and they are always looking to make the system and organization better. They are team players and truly care about the fire service. This group is highly enthusiastic even when they hit brick walls, are chastised and even defeated. They maintain a positive attitude even when there is adversity. This group usually equates to only a hand full of personnel in your department. This is not always the case, as I have witnessed departments where the majority of the personnel are shiners.

Shiners are driven to find better ways to do their jobs. Even though a firefighter may have pried open a door on a search and rescue assignment, he may spend his time off duty thinking and researching a better or faster way of accomplishing the same task. That firefighter may spend time at construction sites or outside training to find out what works and what doesn’t. The whiners would complain that they have to work too hard, they do not have enough help; don’t have the newest piece of equipment and not enough training. However, if they had all they were complaining about it would be something else. These individuals are never satisfied and they try to bring everyone else down to be in their misery. This group is like a cancer that affects your body, usually fast moving and detrimental. The recliners would do just that, they would be hanging back doing nothing and telling everyone just how much they have done.

Time and success are very important to the shiner. Shiners are never content with the status quo and tend to be highly organized. To the average person, a shiner’s desire to have things in such an orderly fashion and in control could be considered “obsessive-compulsive.” Shiners also tend to be easily bored, which makes them more inclined to find trouble or become productive. Shiners are always trying new ideas, techniques and looking for a better way. Not embracing mediocrity, they believe if it is not broke let’s break it, let’s find a better way.

Whiners would do just that, whine — whine that they are always tied up and they are too busy. They have a tendency to always be complaining and not working. They down grade new ideas and embrace status quo. It has worked for the last 20 years so why do we need to change anything. The whiners like being bored; it gives them something to whine about.

The recliners believe success is measured in how much time they can recline in the lazy boys resting and watching TV. Recently I have heard firefighters and officers with the mentality that we are here to run calls and fight fires not all this other busy work crap. Oh by the way, after 5 p.m. is my time. Well if that is so why do we pay them during “My” time? They believe and preach that the public demands us to be in the stations so they know we are ready to respond. Well from the typical position of feet propped up, head in a laid back position and snoring — that is what they see as a ready position. I have to throw the big red BS flag on this one, sorry. Unfortunately they never make it out of the station to see what the public and the job demands and it is more than just sitting in the chairs.

Shiners, whiners and recliners, all firefighters don’t tend to be loners; they seek out group activities on and off the job. It has been said that birds of a feather flock together. Firefighters work and live in a group environment. From their very first day walking into a fire station, recruits learn that the fire service functions in a team environment. Firefighters train in groups, work in groups, live in groups and eat in groups. This close interaction favors people who are trusting, cooperative, dependable and determined. Because firefighters share so much of their lives with each other, they generally build team values, foster increased team cohesion, and identify each member’s strength and weakness.

However, some firefighter personality traits may conflict with the team environment. The fire service is generally looking for people who are assertive, upbeat and talkative. Each of these traits can be a benefit to the group, but they also can be a liability to the team. So the shiners are carrying the recliners while the whiners are complaining about the entire situation.

In an interesting look at how firefighters work together, a study on work injury frequency and duration found that when firefighters cooperated in groups, injury rates were lower than when firefighters didn’t interact with each other. Firefighters who are reluctant to interact with other firefighters may in fact be reluctant to ask for help when they’re in trouble, possibly leaving them at risk of injury. So we can see that the shiners who most likely are always training and learning are our lowest risk to injuries. The whiners are complaining about something, especially anything to do with work and most likely get out of doing it to speed the operation up and the recliners, well they are the ones who end up injured since they have not trained or worked much with the other groups. Heck it is tough getting up out of the recliner and doing something.

During my 35 years in the fire service, seldom have I witnessed a shiner give up on a task. Shiners will work at all cost to complete a task or assignment, sometimes placing them at risk for the betterment of the task. A whiner may complete a task but it usually takes double the time as they have to complain about it at length and then, after realizing they are being forced to do the work, get it accomplished — whining the entire time about it. The recliners, well it may or may not get done. Most times it is the shiners who pick up their slack and get it completed for them and the recliner will take credit for it while the whiner complains.

Failure isn’t in the shiner’s vocabulary, so when shiners are faced with a failed mission, they tend to take it very personally. Some administrators may think that a mission was a success without realizing that the shiner may have viewed the mission in a different light. Sometimes the fire chief’s viewpoint and the shiner’s viewpoint aren’t the same, resulting in conflict. The whiner’s failure is in the forefront of their vocabulary as they will be quick to tell you that this will not work and embrace failure. They then blame it on someone else saying that it was stupid to begin with and they knew it would not work from the start. The recliner’s view on this is well — “if we sit around long enough someone else will do it or it will go away and we won’t have to deal with it.” The problem is, they are correct. A shiner will pick it up if the mission dies due to lack of interest.

Fire fighting isn’t just a job to the shiner, it’s who they are. Shiners strongly identify with the job, as evidenced by the off-duty clothing, homes and vehicles of many. They’re highly dedicated people who love nothing better than a bigger and better challenge. On the flip side, a shiner who loses his or her job because of layoffs, early retirement, disability retirement or regular retirement will lose this identity, which can be personally devastating. Whiners do what they do best; they whine, but they are in the same boat here as the shiners if they lose their jobs because of layoffs, early retirement, disability retirement or regular retirement. The whiner will also lose this identity, which can be personally devastating because the whiner likes to have something to whine about. They have to start all over again in some cases. Most whiners are whiners in all aspects of their lives so they will transition easier than the shiner. Recliners will embrace this because they get to do more of what they like.

Another common denominator in many shiners’ personalities is the burning desire to help people. Shiners enjoy helping out people in need. Firefighters are people who will place their own lives in jeopardy in order to save a life. They enter the fire service knowing that the fire service is a high-risk occupation. The whiners hold the same desire at a lesser level but like the fact that they get to whine about having to do something. The recliners got into this because of the ability to hang out, do nothing and become involved. Shiners in their off-duty time have a tendency to volunteer with local civic groups or raise money for Muscular Dystrophy Association in an effort to help others. You rarely see a whiner or recliner involved in an event like this unless there is something in it for them personally.

What I have described is the shiners, whiners and recliners theory. I know that this is a different piece under leadership, not politically correct and probably made a bunch of folks mad, but it has value. The value is these are the types of people you are forced to manage and deal with on a daily basis. My advice is to keep the shiners motivated, give the whiners plenty to whine about and the recliners move them to the busiest station where they can’t recline or just get rid of them, they are dead weight.

Douglas Cline is a 32-year veteran and student of the Fire Service serving as Assistant Chief of Operations with Horry County Fire Rescue. Cline, a former Fire Chief, is a North Carolina Level II Fire Instructor, National Fire Academy Instructor and an EMT-Paramedic instructor for the North Carolina Office of Emergency Medical Services. Chief Cline is President of the International Society of Fire Service Instructors (ISFSI) and the Immediate Past President of the Southeastern Association of Fire Chiefs (SEAFC).

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