Practical Support for the Changing World at Work 
Linda F. Willing
P.O. Box 148
Grand Lake, CO
80447
970-531-2388
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Consider This... December 2018 Issue Number 221

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.

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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

When TV Gets it Right

There are currently three network television shows that focus on firefighters: Chicago Fire on NBC, Station 19 on ABC and 9-1-1 on Fox. And I admit it: I watch them all.

Mostly I watch out of curiosity, the kind of curiosity that makes someone unable to turn away from watching train wreck. Overall the shows are pretty bad and hardly portray firefighters or the departments they work for in the best light (see below). I do appreciate that all three shows have made an effort to include diverse members among the crews (although for the first few seasons on Chicago Fire, women firefighters had a habit of either dying or leaving the department in disgrace.)

But sometimes I am surprised, as I was when I watched the November 19th episode of 9-1-1 titled "Hen Begins." When it first started, I found 9-1-1 to be perhaps the most offensive of the programs, as it showed (among other things) a firefighter taking a fire truck on a joyride alone seeking pickup sex, and suffering no consequences for it. But this recent show has made me want to give them another chance.

Henrietta Wilson (played by Aisha Hinds) is a black lesbian firefighter who is the only woman on the crew. The recent episode chronicles her journey from being a Big Pharma sales rep to becoming a firefighter and the challenges she faced along the way. That portrayal was done with insight and compassion.

I especially liked the details. The grudging, makeshift sign ("Woman") on her "locker room" door-- a room that is being used for storage. The hostility of the captain as he tries to control and denigrate her, and his ability to influence his crew to go along with him, at least at first. This rang true to me-- when the captain tells Hen to stay behind at the station instead of responding on a call with the crew, I remembered one time an officer ordered me to stay on the truck as he went in to investigate a smoke report alone. The defensiveness she feels even when a crew member tries to befriend her. The pure joy at finding support among others who share her experience.

When an Asian firefighter tells Hen that he has experienced similar isolation in the fire station, she corrects him. You're still a man, she tells him. And that is the most important thing here. This episode was clearly written with some knowledge of what a woman's experience might be as she seeks to find acceptance in the fire service. Hen's trials and ultimate triumph felt authentic to me. I can only hope this trend continues, with this program and its counterparts.

 

News Brief

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled unanimously in favor of two Arizona firefighters who claimed they were fired as a result of age discrimination. The ruling affirms that the 1967 Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) covers state and local governments without regard to the number of workers they employ. The ruling was a victory for John Guido, 46 when he was laid off, and Dennis Rankin, then 54, in their lawsuit against the Mount Lemmon Fire District.

Source: USA Today, November 6, 2018

 

Sexual Harassment Update

What Are They Thinking?

I often wonder about the leaders of the real fire departments used as the settings for the current fire-based television dramas. These departments (Chicago, Los Angeles, and Seattle) have voluntarily cooperated with the production of these programs. Are they happy with the way they are portrayed?

Specifically, I wonder how the real Seattle fire chief feels about his fictional counterpart who is currently involved in a sexual relationship with a woman firefighter. It's hard to imagine that he approves when the TV Seattle fire chief has sex with the firefighter in the station locker room, while both are on duty.

I understand that television is primarily entertainment, and that all programs must be overdramatized to sell. I expect the firefighters to go on major incidents every shift and to routinely get themselves into death-defying situations. I understand that there will always be a soap-opera element to any TV show or movie about emergency services.

But the fire chief sleeping with a firefighter? This is a bridge too far.

Do firefighters have personal and sexual relationships with one another? Absolutely, as people in all work environments do. But it is different when the chief is involved.

Fire chiefs cannot separate themselves from any member of the department. They are in charge of everyone, have power over everyone. And their power is nearly absolute, which is one of the biggest problems with intimate relationships. It is impossible for a relationship with a firefighter be equal. Even if the intention is not coercive, the power in the relationship will always be skewed.

Consider the case of a Minnesota fire chief who recently resigned from his position after admitting to engaging in an inappropriate relationship that was sexual with another city employee. When the city administrator was asked why the relationship was inappropriate, he responded, "For a department head of a city, it’s inappropriate." The chief himself characterized the relationship as "unprofessional."

Exactly. If you want to be fire chief, you cannot go there. And fire chiefs on TV should not be going there either.

Source: Pioneer Press, November 10, 2018

 

© Linda F. Willing, 2018