Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
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Consider This... November 2018 Issue Number 220

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.

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

The Virginia Fire Chiefs Association annual conference will take place February 20-24, 2019 in Virginia Beach. Linda Willing will be presenting workshops entitled "Building Character in the 21st Century Fire Service" and "Professionalism: It's Not About Getting Paid."

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.


In the News

The Entitlement Trap

A prominent fire service blogger recently devoted an entire posting to outrage over a Washington DC elected official's sense of entitlement. Specifically, this public figure routinely parks where he is blocking fire hydrants and other emergency access. When confronted about his parking habits by a constituent, he once replied, "If I park illegally, that opens up a spot for you."

Most firefighters would share this blogger's feeling that "a real leader would not return the loyalty that has kept him in office for 27 years by putting [his constituents'] safety behind his own convenience." But even as they turn away from entitled behavior of others, firefighters must be constantly vigilant for their own.

It's not just about parking either, which has sparked more than one confrontation when firefighters park in emergency access zones when conducting personal business. Sometimes firefighters can get too caught up in the hero mythology and forget who they really work for.

Years ago, I was teaching some classes for a large fire department in California, and while I was there, the local paper published an article highlighting the compensation for many public service workers, including firefighters. Some of the fire department positions emerged as among the highest paid in the county during the previous year. This led to a flurry of letters to the editor, as well as some conversations with community members about why firefighters are so highly paid compared to others.

Some of the firefighters were very indignant about this attention. "Someone came up to me in the grocery store the other day, wanting to know why we get paid so much," one complained. "I told him, because we risk our lives for people like you, that's why."

Is this entitlement or what?

This citizen asked a reasonable question, in an apparently civil manner, of someone who works for him. How is your salary, paid from my tax dollars, justified?

This was an opportunity, a teachable moment that an entitled firefighter chose to ignore. Instead of becoming indignant, he could have explained how firefighters work 24 or 48 hour shifts, totaling much more than 40 hours a week. They work holidays without additional compensation. And in the case of the firefighters being profiled in the newspaper article, their high paychecks were due to the fact that they had been deployed on several wildfires during the previous year for weeks at a time away from home, with much of that additional compensation coming from sources beyond the local jurisdiction.

It is important to always remember that most people have little idea of what firefighters really do, what their schedule is, and the demands on them beyond the job. One need not become defensive or angry when working to inform the public about these aspects of a firefighter's life. Most people like firefighters and support them. But one should never take that support for granted.

Source:, October 23, 2018


News Brief

The Department of Health and Human Services has drafted a memo redefining the legal designation of sex as "a person’s status as male or female based on immutable biological traits identifiable by or before birth." The memo goes on to say that "The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence." This action would potentially undermine federal protections for transgender individuals.

Source: The New York Times, October 21, 2018


Sexual Harassment Update

Harassment: Do Not Respond in Kind

Some people believe that the best defense is a good offense. But when it comes to illegal harassment, this is definitely not a good strategy.

Consider the case of Jason Johnson, a veteran FDNY firefighter since 2006. In 2016 he was assigned to an elite unit, one of only two black firefighters in that role. He claims that he was ostracized from the beginning, with colleagues using racist language and not backing him up on drills.

That same year, Johnson reports that coworkers started taunting him in the belief he was gay, including posts on social media. The problem culminated in an alleged assault when Johnson reported that a coworker grabbed his crotch when they were together on the fire truck.

In response to this action by a coworker, and "seeking to return the favor and make Ribisi uncomfortable," Johnson kissed Ribisi, according to the suit.

Bad idea.

If this firefighter's allegations are true, it is completely understandable why he would be angry and want to respond in kind when abused. But answering sexual assault with another sexual assault just makes you part of the problem.

What could he have done instead? Telling the truth as soon as possible is always a good strategy. It is unclear whether the incident on the fire rig happened while on an emergency response or while conducting routine business. If the latter, then perhaps the firefighter could have immediately spoken to his officer, saying something like, "We have a problem here and we need to talk about it as soon as possible." If a firefighter feels that his or her officer has not listened respectfully or taken appropriate action, then it is time to escalate (always informing the chain of command of doing so.) And always, document fully along the way.

Harassment is a high level problem and must be dealt with as such. Trying to use humor, sarcasm, or responding in kind to address it will never be effective and may make the problem worse.

Source: New York Daily News, October 23, 2018

© Linda F. Willing, 2018