Reducing Organizational Risk in Your Fire and EMS Department

In an earlier post I broached the subject of organizational risk and what some of those risks are for Fire and EMS Departments.  Unfortunately, we continue to see daily examples of firefighters and officers “acting badly” and having an adverse affect on their organizations and their communities.

Why is This Continuing to Happen?

There are probably hundreds of causative factors at work, and while I’m not a trained sociologist by trade, I’m going to discuss a couple that  really stand out in my mind:  the use of social media and “helicopter parenting”.

The impact of social media is hard to ignore.  The newest members of many of our organizations–and some not so new!–have grown up with a constant “connection” with their mobile devices and social media networks, e.g., Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, SnapChat, etc.  They’ve developed a mindset of “post first and post fast” and in many cases have no idea of what the possible repercussions of their actions might be.  These members of our organizations have not developed appropriate filters and judgement about what constitutes appropriate sharing of the details of their personal lives.  Why should we expect that they will exercise appropriate judgement about what to share on-line when it comes to being “on the job”?  (I’m speaking of career and volunteer members).

The younger members of this “social media” generation are also entering our organizations with an under-developed set of interpersonal skills. Their interactions with their peers–and in many cases their parents as well–take place in the realm of text messaging and social media posts, not face-to-face conversations.  (Our grandson and his girlfriend were at our home a couple of weeks ago sitting on the coach sending text messages back and forth to each other.  Sound familiar?).

Helicopter parentsThis is the generation that’s been raised by “helicopter parents”.  Some of the unintended consequences of this parenting style, according to  Deborah Gilboa, M.D., founder of, include:

Decreased confidence and self-esteem. “The main problem with helicopter parenting is that it backfires,” Dr. Dunnewold says. “The underlying message [the parent’s] overinvolvement sends to kids, however, is ‘my parent doesn’t trust me to do this on my own,’ [and this leads] to a lack of confidence.”

Undeveloped coping skills. If the parent is always there to clean up a child’s mess–or prevent the problem in the first place–how does the child ever learn to cope with loss, disappointment, or failure? Studies have found that helicopter parenting can make children feel less competent in dealing with the stresses of life on their own.

Increased anxiety. A study from the University of Mary Washington has shown that overparenting is associated with higher levels of child anxiety and depression.

Sense of entitlement. Children who have always had their social, academic, and athletic lives adjusted by their parents to best fit their needs can become accustomed to always having their way and thus they develop a sense of entitlement.

Undeveloped life skills. Parents who always tie shoes, clear plates, pack lunches, launder clothes, and check school progress, even after children are mentally and physically capable of doing the task, prevent their children from mastering these skill themselves.

Have you seen one or more of these characteristics in your department’s newer members?  I thought so.

What Can We Do?

Well we could do the normal “bitch, moan, and complain” that’s the typical response in many quarters, or we can try to set a “new course”.  I kind of like the “new course” option and here’s what I think the map for that new course should include at a minimum:

  • A member’s handbook that clearly defines your organization’s expectations of behavior on the part of all members.  You only get onePhoenix Fire Professional Standards Cover chance to make a good first impression, so what kind of first impression is your department making on its newest members when they join the organization?  For a great example, check out the Phoenix Fire Department’s Professional Standards Manual. (Downloadable in PDF file format).
  • Create a firefighter mentoring program to help those new members to develop the knowledge, skills, and abilities to be a successful firefighter, that is, help them learn the “stuff” they need to learn beyond their technical training.  Check out the California Fire Fighter Joint Apprenticeship Committee’s program, Mentoring: A Formula for Success in the Fire Service.
  • A good set of organizational risk management “tools”, that is, policies, procedures, and processes that all members are expected to learn and use as their “flight manual” on their daily “sorties”.

I firmly believe that these three elements are a “package deal”; while any one would help guide the behaviors of your members, especially those newer ones, the synergistic effect of the three working together can yield your organization “awesome” results.

What are some of your ideas on this topic?

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail,