An Evolution in Transparency: In Our Departments and Communities

Fire and EMS agencies across the country have incredible people doing amazing things. From those who volunteer their time to public outreach through education and home visits to fundraisers for new equipment, there’s no public-service agency that has contributed more.

It’s time to introduce our personnel to the public we serve. People have seen our folks in action. They’ve invited them into their homes at their time of need. But who is it that’s stepping across the threshold?

In a call for transparency, department websites are creating links to public documents, such as meeting minutes, salaries and benefits, and contracts. Creating controversy, is it time we consider links to the professional resumes of our personnel?

On many websites or upon appointment, many chiefs include a brief professional resume so community members know who’s leading their department. It’s time to extend that same courtesy, through a digital handshake, to every man and woman within the department and the people they serve.

Through rigorous hiring processes, we’ve worked hard to find the right people. Among our ranks are men and women who’ve served their communities for many years. They’ve earned advanced, degrees including master’s degrees and PhDs, and graduated from the National Fire Academy’s Executive Fire Officer Program, and they hold a variety of certifications. Their qualifications are outstanding and in many instances have been obtained on their own time at their own expense.

We’ve hired people based on their experience. From law enforcement, other fire and EMS agencies and veterans from every service, we’ve been able to put together teams that together give agencies the ability to solve the challenges of the next response.

Despite the type of department—volunteer, call or career—everyday firefighters are volunteering their time, from actual emergency responses to giving back at homeless shelters, food pantries, schools or countless other areas of need. Our firefighters teach, publish articles and books, and maintain fire and emergency websites. They’ve participated in and won stair climbs, triathlons and firefighter combat challenges.

When firefighters teach CPR or other classes, the assumption may be that the instructors are paid for their time. The same belief may occur during an open house when personnel, in uniform, are asked and contribute their time. Internally, firefighters step beyond their required roles and volunteer to develop and maintain department websites, write and administer grants, or serve on a variety of committees that help the service to move ahead. Personnel serve on dive, incident-management and hazmat teams and at the local, state and federal levels.

We have people who now serve as union presidents and union officials. They serve as presidents or on the board of directors for not just fire-related organizations, but for other volunteer groups as well. Firefighters have been elected to office and asked to consult or prepare their communities in the event of a natural disaster.

Every March 2 is Read Across America Day, when firefighters take the time to read to children. EMTs and paramedics volunteer to be on site as medical personnel for sports events at local schools. They wear red to support our troops and pink for breast-cancer awareness, and they raise funds for muscular dystrophy and other charities.

Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics have all these qualifications and participate and volunteer in many different ways. Yet few know about it.

This is why it’s time to introduce our people to the community members who rely on and (sometimes) pay us. At a time when transparency has become an expectation, we can use this to our advantage.

Understandably harder in larger departments, posting brief personnel resumes, which are public documents, can take the transparency of the department to a new level. You may have to start with senior officers and work through company officers to the firefighters.

The fire service needs to share the caliber of its professionals with those who call 911. Included should be dispatchers, administrative staff and other personnel who are equally proud of their jobs and are necessary for departments to function. Ideally, the resumes should be updated periodically to account for new achievements.

Departments need to use media to their advantage. Through press releases or social media, the fire service needs to reach out and tell everyone not just what we do but who we are. Many of our accomplishments are overlooked.

Just like the hiring of new personnel or the promotion of officers, a team participating in a stair climb should be news. Let’s inform people when a firefighter wins a combat challenge or is deployed overseas or to a natural disaster. It also serves as recognition by the department. Often, these achievements are not acknowledged.

Websites that link to resumes that include experience, education and achievements can be updated by the people themselves, with help and review from the department.

This isn’t just the next evolution in transparency; it helps to establish credibility for both the individuals and the department. 

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