Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... April 2020 Issue Number 237

Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.

I hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
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Upcoming Events  

Now available! On the Line: Women Firefighters Tell Their Stories by Linda F. Willing. This book features interviews with over 35 women firefighters from the United States and Canada. The book is available from major online booksellers, and signed copies may be ordered through this website.

Fire-Rescue International will take place in Phoenix, AZ August 19-21, 2020.

Women in Fire will hold an international conference in Spokane, WA September 23-26, 2020.


In the News


A US District Court judge in Chicago recently issued an order denying the request of a plaintiff for an emergency temporary restraining order because of copyright infringement. The work that had been copyrighted was portrayals of unicorns and other fantasy creatures that appear on apparel and accessories sold worldwide. In denying the request for a hearing, the judge pointed out that we are in the midst of a global pandemic that has affected court staff and resources, and wondered, "if fake fantasy products are experiencing brisk sales at the moment." He concluded, "The world is facing a real emergency. Plaintiff is not. The motion to reconsider the scheduling order is denied."

Few would disagree with this judge, but it is worth looking a bit deeper at this case. This was a copyright case, not a unicorn case, and few people would argue that copyrights are not important. The problem with this request was not content, but timing. And that is important to keep in mind right now.

In the middle of a global emergency where resources are stretched or absent and uncertainty and fear are barely contained in any interaction, a copyright infringement case is probably not an emergency. The judge wrote, "this Court moved the hearing by a few weeks to protect the health and safety of our community, including counsel and this Court’s staff. Waiting a few weeks seemed prudent." He recognized that the case was legitimate, just not an emergency as was insisted upon by the plaintiffs.

In times like these, it is important to focus on priorities while not losing touch with the big picture. Most fire and emergency services departments are focused on only one thing right now: providing necessary services while not losing their own members and resources in the process. That is plenty to keep them fully occupied for now. But emergency services organizations must also not lose the long view-- when this crisis abates (and it will), there are other important things that need attention that may have been temporarily pushed aside for now.

First responders are stepping up heroically under conditions they have never had to face before. They're anxious and they're tired. Let them focus on what is most important now. But leaders, be sure to keep in mind that other priorities are waiting in the wings.



News Brief

The Commandant of the US Marine Corps has announced that the USMC is banning all Confederate symbols from bases, including Confederate flags. It is unclear if this ban will apply to body art featuring such symbols, although at least one recruit was denied entry into the Corps due to a large visible Confederate flag tattoo.

Source: www.military.com February 27, 2020


Sexual Harassment Update

Collateral Damage

On December 13, 2018 at approximately 0100 hours, an off-duty member of Boston Engine Company 8 entered the firehouse, under the influence of alcohol. An African-American firefighter, playing video games in the TV room, was the only one awake when he entered. The off-duty firefighter proceeded to spew racial epithets and spit on the floor. The on-duty firefighter woke up his officers and demanded that they do something about the situation. The two lieutenants went to the TV room and moved the intoxicated firefighter to a vacant sleeping space for the rest of the night. They made sure the affected firefighter was all right and took his statement. In the morning, they reported the incident to their superior officer. The drunk firefighter was ultimately fired for his actions.

None of this is disputed. What was in dispute was what should happen with the two lieutenants on duty that night.

The department suspended the two lieutenants for two shifts each, concluding they should have reported the matter immediately to their district chief rather than waiting until the following morning to report it to their captain.

A key aspect of this discipline was the contention that the off-duty firefighter had spit at the African-American firefighter, rather than just spitting randomly in the same room. This conclusion appeared in the department's investigation, but was not part of any testimony given.

The two suspended officers appealed their discipline through the civil service commission, and they recently won. The decision states: "What the Appellants did do, both immediately, and within hours, appears both reasonable and consistent with BFD rules and guidelines. They acted immediately to diffuse a volatile situation and remove FF GL from the TV Room. They checked in with FF CB at least twice during the shift. Between 6:30 and 7:00 A.M. that same morning, they both immediately notified their incoming superior officers about what occurred, knowing that this serious matter would need to be reported up the chain of command." The decision goes on to state that the officers exercised sound judgment on the night of the incident, and that the suspension was "collateral damage" for subsequent complaints made by the aggrieved firefighter against the department.

This case brings up the potential conflict between wanting to empower first line supervisors to handle problems and then second-guessing them when those problems later develop further. In this case, the Civil Service Commission determined that all evidence shows that the on-duty officers did their best to handle a potentially dangerous and escalating situation in a way that kept members and the community safe.

Source: Hayhurst and Summering v. Boston Fire Department, Commonwealth of Massachusetts Civil Service Commission

© Linda F. Willing, 2020