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Bullying and harassment in the fire station

Gordon Graham defines the difference between “good-natured fire station shenanigans and hazing, bullying, or outright harassment”

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Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s Tip is for our friends in the fire service. And today I want to talk about harassment in the fire station.

When most of us think about harassment in the fire station, usually we think about the big-picture topics covered in our mandatory annual anti-harassment training. But today, I want to talk about day-to-day firehouse living.

Fire station living is completely different than the 9-5 workplace. Firefighters are around each other anywhere from 12 to 48 hours. The fire station is a second home, where members spend a third of their lives. A healthy fire station is as a place of camaraderie, friendship, comfort, and security. But when harassing behaviors occur, that second home can become a very uncomfortable place to be.

Where’s the line between good-natured fire station shenanigans and hazing, bullying, or outright harassment based on race or sex? You know what, if you step back and put yourself in the picture, it’s really becomes pretty simple. Think about whether you’d want your spouse, son, daughter, mother, or father to be the subject of whatever’s happening at the station.

For example, being a rookie has its own set of burdens. Are those burdens more extreme for female, transgender, and minority rookies? Yes? You’ve got your answer. Would you ever want any member of your close family subject to that behavior? Well, then maybe you and your crew shouldn’t be doing it at all. Look, what was acceptable yesterday may not be acceptable today. Would you want them to face that type of behavior?

Practical jokes, teasing, and general fire station house banter are all arguably necessary to get a crew to meld and work well together. But don’t create a harassing environment for anyone joining the crew and trying to find a place to fit in. Just because others could accept and respond to past pranks or jokes doesn’t mean a new member will. For them, you might be creating a hostile work environment. That damages the crew and integrity of the crew and the fire service, and it might open you up to discipline or lawsuits.

And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham signing off.

Gordon Graham has been actively involved in law enforcement since 1973. He spent nearly 10 years as a very active motorcycle officer while also attending Cal State Long Beach to achieve his teaching credential, USC to do his graduate work in Safety and Systems Management with an emphasis on Risk Management, and Western State University to obtain his law degree. In 1982 he was promoted to sergeant and also admitted to the California State Bar and immediately opened his law offices in Los Angeles.