Dealing with jerks online and in person

They can try the most patient of us, but giving in to the town crank's need for attention and conflict doesn't help you or your department

I spent several years as a newspaper reporter with a good deal of that time sitting through some real sleepers of municipal government meetings. Park, water and school board meetings were like panning for gold — every once in a while something of note would happen, but most of what came out of those rivers was useless rock.

Nearly every town or small city I covered had a town crank. The fire chiefs reading this know who I'm talking about — it's the person who shows up to every municipal meeting with a laundry list of complaints and conspiracy theories. If allowed, they will blather on for hours.

The town crank can't be summarily dismissed for several reasons. They live in the community and have as much right as anyone to air their concerns. And, sometimes they are right.

But most of the time, they are simply seeking a stage and an audience.

I suspect that is the case with Rhonda Applegate of Iowa. Her video rant while watching Colo (Iowa) Volunteer Fire Chief Mark Farren's funeral procession of fire apparatus has garnered her more attention than she deserves. In short, she took issue with public vehicles used for a funeral and peppered it with comments about emergency responders not deserving special treatment.

Chief Farren was a tireless servant to his community and a visionary fire chief who brought significant change to his and surrounding departments. The few gallons of fuel and hours of run time used by those rigs pales by comparison to what the chief gave.

In this week's Reality Training segment, Chief Wylie looked at the video of a possible town crank going off on firefighters for getting their groceries at one store over another. He commended the firefighters for their ability to remain calm in the face of baseless criticism and taking the high road.

And that's really the only way to deal with the town crank. You respectfully listen to them, remember, sometimes they are right, address what needs to be addressed and move on.

Typically, that doesn't satisfy the town crank who is looking for attention. They will often amp up the attack with more inflammatory accusations and statements, as is evident in Ms. Applegate's Facebook responses. They want to elevate everyone's level of excitement to their own.

As firefighters or fire officers, we have to be like the crew in the California grocery parking lot and not take the bait. It's hard, especially when someone is showing supreme disrespect for a great public servant like Chief Farren.

Engaging at their level will feel good — for a very short time. Yet, the best course is to listen, offer facts and move on. It's that simple.

Whether the town crank shows up while you are sitting through your ninth water board meeting of the month or trolling social media, leave your emotions locked away. The town crank is already covered in filth, wallowing around with them will only stain your firefighter uniform. 

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