Want to flame out your fire service career, tell lies

Years of building public and political trust can be squashed small cover-up fibs, as will your career


Tell the truth the first time. Tell the whole truth. Tell nothing but the truth. Tell the truth every time.

Never wiser words have been shared by anyone. What are the organizational rewards when we take this action? What are the pitfalls associated with lying?

As with all of the 13 career crushers, lying usually causes irreparable damage to your outfit and to a person's reputation. Making a mistake can generally be forgiven, if it is without malice and not intentional. However, lying doesn't go away without leaving a deep scar.

The fire-rescue service has the informal power to do the work at hand because it has the public's trust. We are vested with a wide range of sweeping formal powers that effect the lives of the residents and visitors to our communities.

The process of earning the public's trust takes place over a long period of time. Once earned, the community is usually willing to extend that trust until the agency breaks that bond through some errant action (which is usually stupid and highly publicized after the fact) that is real or perceived.

13 Career Crushers

  • Revenge
  • Discrimination, harassment and hazing  
  • Inattention to details of the organization
  • Troubled personal life
  • Actions not in align with departmental goals and values
  • Declining health
  • Ignoring technology
  • Illegal activity
  • Irreconcilable differences with the boss
  • Lying 
  • Political suicide
  • Political ambition
  • Incompetence

Truthfulness equals trust
The focus of the leadership of any fire-rescue department should be to operate a high-trust and high-performance department that upholds the great tradition of service that we are known for delivering. Truthfulness is at the very core of the process that obtains and upholds the public trust. Effective leaders understand and fearlessly protect this earned, highly valued status.   

We are a highly visible and highly scrutinized component of our communities. Our response equipment is brightly painted with reflective stripes; add sirens and air horns, and our every move is easily tracked by even the most casual observer.

Excluding HIPAA-protected information, all of the documents regarding the actions we take are available to the public. Most news outlets have reporters assigned to covering all aspects of public safety and they cover most of our activities.

Once a significant response occurs (measured by loss of life or large dollar loss), the incident will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Constantly remind your firefighters that we are being watched, recorded, viewed, reviewed, researched and tracked in just about every way imaginable.   

Having the public's trust and support becomes mission critical. Lying will destroy that fragile trust quicker than any other factor. Lies will lead to mistrust and will crush community support of the department.

Trust scenarios
The best advice is to not engage in any dishonest behaviors. The inappropriate action always seems to be discovered at some point and the fibbing house of cards will collapse.   

Consider this fictional scenario of a person who was injured in a serious automobile crash. With about 1.5 million such events occurring each year, it is easy to see that this is a realistic situation.

Because of the mechanism of this injury in this situation, it is necessary (following EMS protocol) to strip the patient's clothing to determine if there are unseen injuries. The person in need of your pre-hospital care is a teenager.

What will that teen's parents say when they find out? What will the community say about you removing this young person's clothing?

I submit to you that there will not be a discussion about that part of your treatment protocol, if you followed it correctly. To examine a patient for all injuries is part of the expected and accepted process of delivering evidenced-based medicine.

One lie too many
The lack of public comment and concern is only based on the fact that the member delivering the medical care and the department possess the public's trust. If that same situation plays out, and it is later learned that the EMT is a registered sex offender (there are about 750,000 registered sex offenders), there will be hell to pay by all involved — and quite frankly there should be.

We are empowered to do our job without question and with community support by virtue to holding the public's trust. Do not take this trust lightly or place it in jeopardy at anytime for any reason. One single lie told by just about anyone who holds the public's trust can cause the system to come crashing down.   

To put this career crusher in a perspective, here's how it can negatively affect the individual member. If a firefighter has or would like to have police powers, associated with the position of fire inspector or fire investigator, be very careful about always telling the truth.

If a person holding these responsibilities fails to tell the truth (usually described as lacking veracity; a polite and legal way of saying liar), expect to be added to the Lewis List or Brady List. In essence, being listed means that you will not be allowed to testify in court or prepare public reports (documents) without disclosing that you had previously lacked veracity in some phase of police powers activity.  

The focus on the witness stand will not be about solving the crime that was committed and determining guilty, but it will be about what the fire inspector or investigator did to be included on the Lewis or Brady list.

Financial backing
The last impact to consider is the overall, general community and political support for the organization. Most departments that have both the community and governing body's support are able to obtain the necessary resources to do their jobs.

Considering the costs involved in operating a department, all of the support the leadership can muster is needed to acquire and properly maintain fire and rescue stations and rolling stock.

If the public does not trust you to do your job, they will not trust you to spend tax dollars.  

Always strive to be a high-trust, high-performance agency. The number-one factor to reaching and maintaining this lofty goal is by always telling the truth.

When a mistake is made, own it and be accountable for your actions. If it is an honest mistake, make efforts to correct it and offer a plan to improve the member and the organization.

Lying, on the other hand, will only make a bad situation worse. It seems like the best "fib cover-up" plans get foiled overtime. So, tell the complete truth the first time, and tell it every time.

Until next time, please be safe out there.  

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