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Thoughtful Leadership- Disciplinary Action

Disciplinary action in the fire service is sometimes shrouded with hesitation. As discussed earlier in FFPM-Wellbeing, it is possible that psychological and firefighter-california1behavioral factors related to firefighter stress can, at times, rear its head in the disciplinary arena. It’s imperative that a fire service personnel manager (Fire Officer) be tuned-in with the firefighter in question to rule out stress as a contributing factor for the undesired behavior.

While a decreased level of performance may be unacceptable and worthy of disciplinary documentation, possible recent contributing factors such as, witnessing a suicide or rescuing a deceased child may provide some clarity as to the behavior of the firefighter. This scenario would provide for a different course of action such as the behavioral wellness program, instead of disciplinary action.

The desire to maintain positive working relationships, motivation, and company cohesion balances along a delicate line of which all fire officers wish to neutrally navigate. The introduction of a disciplinary action willfully disrupts this delicate balance and creates misguided mistrust.

Write-up cultures are typically toxic cultures. The last thing any fire officer should want is their entire shift walking around in fear of being written up for not covering their mouth when they sneeze. That isn’t a comfortable environment to work in.

There is also a social aspect which plays out in Firefighter disciplinary action. It’s imperative that the disciplinary action be justifiable and apparent. Catching someone off guard with a write-up is no way to manage. With Firefighting, it has to be slightly more personal than handing some a cold piece of paper.

St. Paul firefighter Billeigh Riser Jr. of St. Paul, center, is schooled in the art of floor mopping by his partner, Ron Nistler of Star Prairie Township, Wis., right, at Fire Station 23 in St. Paul on Monday, March 23, 2009. At left is Kelly McDougal. Recently returned from his second tour of duty in Iraq, Riser credits his "extended family" of fellow firefighters with helping in his ongoing recovery from post traumatic stress disorder. (Pioneer Press: Richard Marshall)

Typically, all practical efforts should be exhausted before the formally documented disciplinary action is generated. These efforts include mentoring, peer assistance, peer pressure, focused training efforts, verbal warnings, and the like. Violation of policies such as theft, physical altercations, willful damage, and actions similar in criminal nature may certainly be solid grounds for a tiered disciplinary response.

Disciplinary action in the fire service must take a comprehensive effort to resolve the true spirit of the disciplines intent. To correct the issue. It’s important to find the potential root of a problematic action rather than escalate the firefighter’s problems with a write-up.

Sometimes the contributing factors could be located at home or be outside the fire department altogether. But you wouldn’t know that until you had a one-on-one walk and talk preferably outside your intimidating office.

Be a thoughtful leader. Investigate beyond a specific action and see if there are any underlying problems. You’ll gain more respect by trying to understand, than by leading with a heavy fist.