After Action Incompetence
When the fire is under control but the IC is not
That’s probably a good place for you, at least until
that chief gets his meds regulated. Or someone shuts
his radio off so he THINKS there are no runs for him
to go on, and the runs then miraculously go better
than ever. Or his superiors decide that they won’t
allow him to abuse the members of the fire department. Mic drop.
There was a T-shirt sold at FDIC years ago that
said, “Heat, Fuel, Oxygen, or Chief—Remove Any
One of These and the Fire Goes Out.” That was
often a humorous but reality-based solution back in
the day, but the hope was we have learned and gotten
better—obviously not everywhere and definitely not
in your neck of the woods.
There is little worse than an abusive boss (yep,
that’s what it is, abuse) to make you reconsider why
you joined the fire department in the first place.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A raised voice during an
emergency may be required: “HEY, TRUCKIE, YOU
DROPPED YOUR PARTNER. GO BACK AND
PICK HIM UP!” may be perfectly acceptable, but
after the fire or when things aren’t tactical? No.
We have all been there, dealing with a screamer,
and there are a few tactics that will help you survive if
this situation happens again.
Listen but don’t yell back. Yelling back only
makes you look as bad as he did (and he IS looking
for a fight AND a way to show or somehow prove
his power and authority). Don’t give it to him by
responding with emotion.
Let the screamer scream. Let him rant, rave, and
scream, but you say nothing. NOTHING. Eventually, he will run out of air and pass out because of the
lack of oxygen (often the best solution, so when he
does pass out, quickly place him on a small boat or
raft or airdrop him on a small island with adequate
supplies). If that’s not an option, let him rant. When
he is done, and if he is looking for a response or asks
you a question, CALMLY ask him (without being
cynical) to talk privately, but do your best to NOT
Let the screamer explain how it should have been
done. Let him have the stage so he creates his own
performance and, more importantly, his reputation.
If the opportunity presents itself and he does calm
down, simply and CALMLY state, “Chief, I would
have done what we are expected to do but staffing was
low so I did my best because of the conditions. What
would you have liked me to do?” And then shut up and
listen. But DON’T be a wise ass; he has that covered.
Improve what you can improve. If, other than
the staffing issue, you and your crew can improve
under those circumstances in the future, do so! Train,
I am a volunteer firefighter in a combina-
tion fire department. I recently responded
on a structural fire (with both volunteer and
career paid crews) where a series of errors
on a few levels resulted in things not going
as well as we would hope. While the build-
ing didn’t burn down and no one was hurt or
injured, it primarily didn’t go well because of
staffing. While that was bad enough, when we
were done, the incident commander (IC), a
career employee, held a critique.
I have no problem with critiques for the
obvious reason that we can learn what went
well—and what didn’t—and what we can
do to improve, but wow, the IC proceeded to
scream, yell, and absolutely rip my butt in
front of everyone. I was shocked; his behavior
was right out of the “how NOT to be a chief
officer” book! While I am respectful, I wasn’t
going to stand there and take it, so I yelled
back, defending what we did and why we
had to do it (primarily because of the lack of
adequate staffing on the initial alarm). It was
ugly, with the ego-driven IC completely unwill-
ing to even attempt to be professional; sadly,
he has this reputation and “that’s him.”
I welcome your opinion on how to deal with
this screaming lunatic who has way more
brass than I do.
-—Hiding in a Compartment
on the Apparatus