Freelancing

The movement against freelancing is killing the fire service.

       Before I get all sorts of angry comments or emails, let me clarify that I believe a firefighter acting as a lone wolf on the fire imageground is dangerous, unacceptable, and should not be allowed at any time. The anti-freelancing movement started with good intentions and is a noble gesture. We began initiatives to limit firefighters acting as lone wolves to limit injuries and deaths. I stress that I am against reckless actions by unsupervised individuals. However, people are using the war against freelancing to have total control over firefighters and fire scenes. We have created a “mother may I” culture by forcing our firefighters to wait for orders and ask for permission. We are stunting professional growth by robbing firefighters of the ability to think for themselves.
       When I came into the fire service, we all understood that certain tasks had to be accomplished. Whether they were around the station or on an emergency scene, these tasks were necessary in completing our jobs. We didn’t wait to be told to complete these tasks, nor did we ask to do them; we just did them because we knew they had to be done. That has changed. We have moved away from the SOP’s that need to be performed at every fire (when appropriate). We have gone to a “mother may I” thought process. No longer are we able to act on our own knowledge and experience. We are expected to ask or wait for orders from our officers or supervisors to perform even the smallest tasks or we will get labeled a “freelancer”. This term has become a four letter word because of the stigma that it carries. You get labeled reckless, dangerous, and not a team player. There are also possible disciplinary actions that may result from our “reckless” actions. All of this is making our officers expect that we run all ideas by them when we want to do something. This makes firefighters timid and afraid to rock the boat. Want to train? Ask the officer or you’ve gone rogue. Want to flow water? Ask the officer! Want to cut the power? Ask the officer. This culture of asking for permission is leading to a vacuum of knowledge, experience, and leadership in the fire service. If we always expect our firefighters to ask for permission, how can we expect them to make decisions for themselves? This has created firefighters that stand down, waiting to be told what to do instead of forward thinking and problem solving professionals. This may not seem like a big deal, but it will be when someone dies because the rookie was too worried to act because he might get labeled a freelancer. Don’t think that kind of thing will happen? Go ask someone that has been deployed in a war zone if they have ever seen a soldier (usually a new guy) that is too scared to pull a trigger and hesitated because he didn’t want to get in trouble. I have yet to talk to one soldier that had not experienced that once while deployed.

      Now I realize there are plenty of departments out there that allow free thinking officers and firefighters to operate without being micromanaged but unfortunatley we are seeing less and less of those departments. If you are lucky enough to be a member of those department, be proud that you are part of a department that is continuing to allow professionals to perform their job. If you are getting upset by what you are reading and getting defensive then you probably micromanage and need to do a self evaluation. How do we stop this madness? Through SOP’s that allow officers and firefighters to make decions and act accordingly. This allows the people that are actually operating on the fireground to use their brains and figure out what needs to be done. Novel concept right? By giving open ended assignments that allow our crews to be free thinking firefighters. We also need officers who aren’t afraid to ask their crews (after the incident) what they honestly think of their fire ground decisions. It’s time to realize that the fire ground is a dynamic environment that does not allow us to be rigid, mindless zombies simply following the orders of the guy/girl in command. We need to return to the era of SOP’s and good leaders that allow their officers and firefighters to do their jobs. If we don’t I’m afraid the ‘mother may I’ fire service may be here to stay. Keep it basic!

2 Comments

  • Alan Newton says:

    Early in my firefighting career I was taught any decision you make is better than no decision. I had a 20 year career in the USAF with that motto and never had a problem.

  • Jim Moss says:

    Very good post. I think that this subject all comes down to one’s own department culture, and even individual crews and company officers. Also, what are the individual firefighters’ level of knowledge, skills, Abilities, and experience at the company level? If they are greater, then greater latitude and freedom is allowed to each firefighter to complete their tasks. But a rookie firefighter with minimal KSA’s and experience will have a “tighter leash,” per se. Additionally, how well do the company officers and firefighters know their SOG’s? This also impacts fire ground operational efficiency, effectiveness and communications.

    Keep up the great work, Kiel. You always write material that makes us think.

    Fraternally,
    Jim

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