I’m not a lawyer but I do know a couple of the overriding legal theories that encompass the fire service and most other service industries; Misfeasance, Malfeasance and Nonfeasance.
Misfeasance is willful inappropriate action, intentional incorrect action.
Malfeasance is willful and intentional action that causes.
Nonfeasance is the failure to act when required.
The worst of all in my book is nonfeasance, failure to act. Someone asks a firefighter for help and that firefighter does nothing. We get called because we will help, the people we serve expect us to be people of action and to fix whatever problem they have, and we can. Any department in this country has the ability to get the ball rolling for a National level response if they need it. That’s a lot of weight behind your actions. But most of the time, a single company can handle the call, if they go.
You have a duty to act. Granted sometimes that duty involves standing back and making sure everyone else does likewise. But that act of moving bystanders back and maybe putting a halt to an operation is the act you need to perform in order to get the safest outcome.
When I am teaching at recruit school I make an effort to drill “failure to act is the biggest failure” into the minds of the new recruits. People call 911 because they are scared and don’t know what to do. When people have no where else to turn, they call us. You cannot represent the fire service by not responding to calls for help or responding and turning your nose up at a call.
Failure to act….Failure to act. Failure to do your job. Failure to represent your city. A failure to your department, your company, failure to be a firefighter? What the hell are you here for? Even someone who is just in the fire service to collect a check will still do the minimum to collect that check. Right?
I’m not writing this because of the shenanigans in DC (http://www.myfoxdc.com/category/265836/fox-5s-coverage-of-the-dc-fire-and-ems-department#axzz2tQjKm9NV ). My personal opinion is that incident represents a systemic failure from the top down. But I’m not going to judge how they keep their house. I’m on this tear because of something I almost missed, almost, if it weren’t for my crew knowing we have a duty to act.
My company was filling in for another company while most of them were out on department business (long irrelevant story). The officer from that company was still in quarters. Most of my crew and I were engaged in some reclined training (watching the Olympics) when we heard the firehouse doorbell ring followed by a mumbling Q&A. All I could make out was the visitor was distressed about something. My crew and I expected to get a call out of this visit so we started walking over to investigate. The officer from the covered company reported that the visitor’s awning on her front porch had collapsed and was blocking her front door, she was afraid it would fall off and hurt someone. She had called a couple friends and contractors but nobody would help her. The officer had advised her to to go and call more people because “that’s not our problem, we can’t take care of things like that”.
I ask him why not.
“If we touch that, we own it. I’m not going to put myself in a position to get sued for not fixing something properly”
“We’ll take care of it ma’am, what’s the address” I said. My crew was more than willing to go.
I could not believe he would say that. How does he do anything as a firefighter/officer if he is afraid he will get sued for every action. If you do quality work, and work within your scope you should not be scared to act.
We went over and yanked it down and hauled it to the curb for her. She was so happy that she was crying. We were happy because we got to wreck something and make someone’s day in the process.
If you do not respond to calls because you think they are beneath you or you are scared to act because of fear of the outcomes you are not doing the fire service any favors. There is always an abundance of bystanders we need doers, people who get things done people of action not contemplation (maybe a little).
When I was a probie we got a call for for an “electrical hazard” at the elderly house right next to quarters. When we got there we discovered Nana’s TV was not working. Now, why she called 911 for this at 3AM is beyond me, but we cleared from the call and hooked her cable up. I was a bit stunned that my boss had no problem doing it. He told me “It is an emergency for her, and we are already here. We might as well help her out.” We were back in quarters by 3:30.
Maybe with a little, just a little effort mind you, we can get the fire service back in good standing in the public’s eye. If you do an internet search for “firefighters are” 8/10 of the suggested searches make firefighters look bad. I bet many of the reasons are because of stories like this. Nobody retells a story quite as vividly as the person who feels they were treated unjustly. We can do better. The way we get better is not turning people away that need (even a small amount) of help. We are men/women of action, so do something. Make sure everyone knows we get things done.
Be professional, and Stay safe.