Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... December 2019 Issue Number 233

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

The Transfer Solution

Two firefighters argue constantly. A company officer feels a new crew member just "doesn't fit in." A firefighter asks for consideration based on religion that other firefighters don't share. A foul-mouthed engineer causes complaints.

What is often the first solution to these and similar problems? Transfer one or all of the troublesome workers.

Shift or station transfers have their place and are the right solution for some problems. For example, if one firefighter has an affair with a coworker's spouse, it would probably be best in the short term that they not work together in close proximity. If two firefighters who are also business partners off the job have that business fail, resulting in litigation-- well, some space might be in order. But for routine issues among coworkers, transferring people can actually make the problems worse.

Let me be clear: Getting along is part of the job. People are paid or otherwise compensated to do it. It is not an option for anyone to say, "I'm just difficult. Get over it." Everyone has an obligation to try to get along with others they work with.

Transferring someone is an act of avoidance-- it does not address the underlying cause of the problem that led to the transfer. So if one or more firefighters are behaving badly, they are likely to continue to behave badly in their new environment. The problem hasn't been solved, it has been multiplied.

Getting along as coworkers does not mean being best friends. You don't even have to like someone to treat them with inclusion and respect.

But getting along in this way does involve skills that some firefighters do not actively cultivate. These would include skills of effective communication and conflict management, including tactics to defuse escalating tension.

Company officers, as part of their job, must set standards and act as good examples in this regard. But all firefighters are both morally and professionally obligated to solve interpersonal problems on the job the same way they solve life safety problems in service to the community. Transferring people to solve problems should only be done in very limited circumstances and as a last resort. Getting along is part of the job and that means working out problems as they come up, not avoiding them and allowing them to grow.


News Brief

A Chicago firefighter who claims he was punched by his lieutenant and knocked unconscious has survived a motion to dismiss his federal court case. The incident occurred in 2018 during a post-incident review. The officer was charged with misdemeanor battery, but the firefighter is also alleging that the officer and the city violated his civil rights by tolerating similar behavior from supervisors in the past.

Source: firelawblog.com 9/29/19


Sexual Harassment Update

How Can This Happen?

An engineer with a large urban fire department, with nearly 20 years of service, has filed sexual harassment charges against her employer, alleging acts that include sexual assault. The engineer, called Jane Doe in the lawsuit, claims that she was subjected to severe sexual harassment by several different officers over a period of years, with acts including physical assault. She also claims that this history of abuse exacerbated an existing medical condition, which ultimately led to her being discharged from the department short of fulfilling requirements for a complete pension.

The allegations in the legal complaint are horrifying. If true, they would constitute criminal behavior. And while I am sure there is more than one side to this story, which will come out if the case goes to trial, one question is foremost in my mind. How on earth did things get to this place?

Jane Doe says she tried to report the bad behavior, only to face retaliation in the form of unwanted transfers. She said she was forced to report through officers who were the ones engaging in the harassing behavior. She said she feared for her job if she told the truth about what these officers were doing.

If this is all true, it would signal a catastrophic failure not only at individual levels but also with the organization.

For example, it is now expected that alternate reporting channels exist for harassment, specifically because immediate supervisors sometimes are either the direct or enabling harassers. Did such alternate channels not exist on this department?

And how could someone tolerate years of sexual harassment and physical abuse and not say anything to anyone about it?

All harassment begins with a single act. If there are effective and accessible means to deal with early-stage issues, problems will never escalate to the point of crisis. It is everyone's responsibility to resolve problems early, even when avoidance may seem to be the easier solution.



© Linda F. Willing, 2019