In the midst of discussions about brotherhood, courage, honor and self-sacrifice, the unfortunate revelation that a firefighter in a major department likely committed suicide as a reaction to cyber-bullying was for some eye opening, for others validation of their lived experience. The fire and emergency service, as a microcosm of society, has all of the same ills. Society as a whole has an issue with bullying, harassment and violence, so to assume that the fire and emergency service is immune is at best naïve, at worst disingenuous.
The IAFC has formed a task group, led predominantly by the Safety, Health and Survival Section, to help emergency services understand and address the issue. Endorsed by the IAFC’s Board of Directors and its president, Chief John Sinclair, with representatives from the Human Relations Committee, Volunteer and Combination Officers Section and iWomen, as well as other organizations, the task group has established a number of goals, including:
- Conduct and academically based evaluation or the body of research on bullying, harassment and violence.
- Identify typical examples of and the connections between bullying, harassment and violence in fire and emergency services.
- Create a tool box for fire and emergency services leaders to prevent, or identify and eliminate bullying, harassment or violence where it may occur.
One important observation so far is that while there are many significant examples of bullying, harassment and violence across the spectrum of the fire and emergency service, it’s also true that some of these occurrences are not intentional.
In fact, in his book Privilege, Power, and Difference, Dr. Alan Johnson argues that “avoiding, exclusion, rejection, and devaluing often happen in ways noticed only by the person experiencing them and they can happen without anyone intending harm.”
However, when these behaviors are perpetrated in such a way as to cross the line to workplace bullying, they’re most likely to be from a person in a leadership capacity.
According to the Workplace Bullying Institute, “72% of bullies are bosses.”
Thus, this effort by the IAFC is important and even more so that it is focused on giving leaders information they need to change a disturbing trend that crosses all industries.
The task group has been asked to present its findings at Fire-Rescue International in Charlotte, North Carolina, and is being considered for other presentations as well. The Bullying, Harassment and Violence Prevention Toolbox will be debuted as well as other potential focus on this important issue.
While it’s unlikely that this singular discussion will solve the issue of bullying, harassment and violence in the fire and emergency service, if only one individual is spared or one life is saved, there’s no question that the effort will have been worth the investment of time and energy.