Those Sour Apples…
What’s killing the culture of the volunteer fire service? The easy answer is the decline of emergency incidents for many volunteer departments in the last decade. The evolution of fire safety has allowed for many potential fires to be kept from getting any worse and held at a simple fire alarm activation. The same goes for motor vehicle crashes, cars are better designed to crumble in certain ways to allow the victims to self extricate prior to the arrival of emergency resources. Now take a step back and try to identify some issues in your department. Then try to figure out how and why the issues have managed to become so prevalent. You may find that there may be one or two bad apples in the firehouse, that manage to bring down the morale and attitude of the entire department. The problem these days is that many will point fingers and completely blame them for all of the surrounding issues as the scapegoats. However you have to dig deeper than the surface and understand how they managed to become an issue.
“This whole job is about attitude. You ain’t in the brotherhood till the brothers in the firehouse say you’re in the brotherhood.” Captain Ed Metcalf, FDNY
This quote comes from the first few minutes of the Brotherhood film, which was released after 9/11 and brought to life the rebuilding of the FDNY. Captain Metcalf addressed a recruit class on their first day of the academy and honestly explains to them the structure of the fire service. Examples such as this show that when new members join they should be explained the expectations of the fire service as a culture and as a professional. Career or volunteer it doesn’t matter. Socially as a firefighter there is a degree of trust that established as a first responder. When new members are explained to them the standards and history of the fire service then there is a foundation for a better understanding of the fire service. This allows for them to be more aware of the firehouse culture, etiquette, and the camaraderie of the brotherhood.
There are many trains of thought discussing out how and why the bad apples make such a sour impact. The one common theme is that somewhere along the lines there was a lack of leadership or structure, which has allowed for them to continue acting and spreading the negative attitude. In order to attempt to prevent this phenomenon there has to be respect and understanding of the hierarchy of the fire service. It is a subject that is discussed in the first few classes of every basic fire fighter academy. As buildings are built, it starts at the bottom with the juniors, the probies, the senior guys, and the chain of officers, which will ultimately strengthen the department as a whole. Respect is the key that turns the motor of camaraderie that strengthens the firehouse making it tougher for those sour apples to leave a bad taste in the department.