“Volunteer firefighter charged with arson in South Carolina Walgreens Fire.”
“Virginia firefighter charged with Felony Rioting During Trump Inauguration.”
“Whitfield County firefighter charged with child molestation ...”
These are the first three headlines that came up when I googled “firefighter charged.” Every one of these three headlines were within the last few years or so. There were pages and pages of results that showed where our brothers and sisters have broken the trust of the public.
How many times have you witnessed this yourself? I have gone to conferences, trainings, and just around town and have seen firefighters in their departmental shirts drinking adult beverages in extreme excess. How does this look to those who support us through fundraisers, taxes, etc. (i.e. the citizens we serve).
Why is This Important?
Well we need the trust of those we serve. We need them to be comfortable with us so that we can provide the services.
I remember so many runs in my career that amazed me how much the public trusts us. One time I got sent out for what ended up being a pediatric near drowning. The mother ran to me and handed her child over to me and she had never met nor seen me before. If it weren’t for me being in fire/EMS would that mother do that? Absolutely not! I remember — in my younger days — a military officer trusting me with his daughter — that was my age — without even questioning me. Would he be so trusting if I wasn’t doing this job? No. This trust is needed so that way we can do our jobs without impediment.
For those that are tax based, the trust we have with the citizens allow us to obtain funding for the needs in terms of resources.
One thing we must do is remember that as public servants we voluntarily gave up some of our freedom, if you will, due to this job. Personally, any time I am in the public’s eye — with or without department gear on — I consider what I would feel if I saw another firefighter doing that action. Many times, we think that this only matters when we are wearing a fire department t-shirt or such. This is not the case. How many people in your area know that you are a firefighter? It does not always take a t-shirt for others to know your job.
We must start to consider this every day and during every action. Today our actions are more apparent than ever before. With social media as it is, one action can ruin not only the public’s trust in you but also the entire department.
Maintain the Trust
Hopefully you can see how vital the public’s trust is for us. Make sure to consider your actions when you are in public AND when you are not in the public’s eye; as we can still do actions that would break the trust.
We tend to spend time with our fellow firefighters. Keep them accountable. Don’t hesitate to let them know that they are risking that trust when their actions aren’t in accordance with our standards.
The best way I explain this overall is to consider what your mom or dad or grandparent or your child would say if they saw you doing what it is you are doing. If you could look them in the eye and honestly talk to them about it then you are likely working to maintain the public’s trust.
In conclusion, in our world today it is hard to do something without others not seeing it or being able to share it widely. This can be good to share this information. Think about those times where you see some off-duty firefighter stepping in and helping others in everyday life or in emergencies. However, those are more of the exceptions as negative situations gain more interest than positive. When we see a firefighter doing something wrong and unethical on or off duty it goes very far through word of mouth or social media. The trust one firefighter breaks affect us all. So, as you go about life, think about how your actions affect you, your brothers and sisters on the job, and the public.
Until next time, be safe!
David Hesselmeyer, M.P.A., has been in emergency services for 16 years. Currently he is a firefighter, rescue technician, paramedic, and North Carolina Executive Emergency Manager. Hesselmeyer is the owner and primary consultant with On Target Preparedness (OTP) which contracts with emergency services agencies and non profits to assist in risk assessments, plan writing, plan revision, exercise development, etc. He currently volunteers with Buies Creek Fire Rescue and works part time with Harnett County EMS. He can be contacted at [email protected]
or visit his website at www.ontargetprep.com