NEW YORK — Seven FDNY firefighters were disciplined for violating the FDNY’s “zero tolerance” hazing policy following a hazing incident of an African-American firefighter. Although the department withheld the identities of those involved, the New York Post (see this article for full story) reported that the incident involved a prank in which “they put the guy’s locker in the bathroom.”
Okay, so we all know where FDNY stands on “hazing”. Except that it seems to be a very vague rule. The word potential kind of is the catch all. Potential to demean a member? That could be anything if you didn’t like someone.
When I was in Boy Scouts, admittedly a long time ago, we always played harmless pranks on the new guys in the troop. Like sending them out at night for an imaginary snipe hunt or having them do all the dishes. I grew up with two older brothers so I had some experience in dealing with this type of chicanery. But I guess persons without older siblings never get a chance to experience this sort of thing.
So what is the right course? The “insider” who talked about the culture in the firehouse is right. But what harm is there in changing that culture? We certainly have changed as a fire service over the years. There was a time when you weren’t tough if you wore your SCBA into a fire. Now you belong in the dark ages if you don’t. So yes, fire service culture does change. Again, what’s the harm in changing the culture of hazing? I know some members just won’t be happy if they can’t play tricks on others. So we have to deal with those individuals. As a first step, we as fire service leaders have to let all personnel know where we stand on the issue and that violations will not be tolerated.
I can take a joke as much as anyone, but I had experience from an early age. Sometimes, however, some guys just go too far. And these are the ones the rules are made for. Much like in school where the teacher teaches at the lowest level so everyone can keep up. I think there are harmless pranks, but if we allow those (and how would you define them), then you have the guy or gal that goes too far. We are our own worst enemy more often than not. So we make a rule that seems vague (FDNY) but is actually there to protect everyone.
Just to be clear, I am not in favor of creating “safe places” within the fire house (like some educational institutions) where members can go and have quite time or just feel safe. If you are that sensitive then maybe the fire service isn’t for you. I don’t think anyone has suggested that, yet, but at some point I feel confident someone will.
The fire service is a great job, or institution, full of traditions and heritage. We also have a record of being flexible and recognizing the need for change. I think it is time to change the “hazing” culture and respect each other equally.
Remember, that guy or gal you are playing a prank on or hazing may be the one that has to pull You out.
Remember, Stay Safe, Everyone Goes Home, and a
Merry Christmas from Florida
William Jolley has 37 years of experience in the fire service with 20 of those years in a management position. William was the Fire Chief of Haines City, Florida, a city of Approximately 20,000. Prior to that William was the Assistant Chief of Saint Petersburg, Florida, where he worked for 35 years.