Tag Archives: fire department

Alcohol and The Fire Service: A Long Tradition

Drinking alcohol and being a firefighter seem to go hand and hand. When I grew up at the firehouse it was an every weekend occurrence. Even before I was a member, I would hang out there on the weekends with my dad. Every Friday night after a few hours of bingo it was time for the “boys” to crack open the beers and get the hall set up. All the members would huddle around the bar in the back of the hall and tell all the stories of the big fires throughout their careers. 

Attending the conferences it seems the tradition lives on. You can almost bet there will be a major alcohol sponsor and a block party waiting. All the parades and the major events seem to hold the same precedence, Alcohol and lots of it. Does the Fire service have higher rates of alcoholism than the general population? Is it time for the leaders of the major events to take a look and see if there is need of change?

A recent Study by JSciMedCentral says it does. They questioned 112 firefighters from the northeast and they said that 58% of the firefighters reported binge-drinking behavior in the last 30 days. The study questioned both volunteer and paid firefighters and the numbers were staggering across the board. They ask the firefighters why they believe the alcohol use was so high and they said “tradition” as one of the factors among other things.

I personally work on helping firefighters who are struggling with alcoholism and drug abuse. I talk to guys every week whose lives have been destroyed by alcohol. The very traditions that firefighters follow are causing some to lose everything and hit rock bottom. Thus the results of this study aren’t surprising to me at all.

The JSciMedCentral study clearly shows that cultural issues are contributing to the fact that drinking, and overdrinking, are more prevalent in the profession. First of all, when questioned the firefighters didn’t believe their profession was any worse than any other profession. So we’re looking at a culture that has normalized behavior that is actually excessive.

Many departments expressed having zero tolerance policies about drinking on the job. These policies are acceptable because they are consistent with the culture. The overarching trope is that firefighting is a serious, tough, demanding business after which one has to unwind. The JSciMedCentral study quotes responses that use the word “unwinding” as a common view the respondents had about after-hour drinking activities. So much so that the study showed hangovers – that is, having been drunk the night before reporting for duty with perhaps too few hours to sleep it – were tolerated to a greater extent than drinking on the job. This is in keeping with the culture – the idea of toughing it out and getting one’s act together for the serious work at hand.

I have been saying over the last few years that something needs to change. Promotion of alcohol at fire service events should be cut back. Drinking alcohol and stepping foot into a volunteer fire department should be an absolute no. I can’t believe that in 2015 we still allow individuals who are under the influence inside of a fire department. The amount of cameras on you today will destroy an individual for one simple mistake. It will disgrace a firefighter and the department.

Perhaps it would only take a slight change in culture to pave the way for policies reflecting less tolerance of after-hours drinking. Reporting how firefighters viewed their colleagues’ drinking habits, the study writers put the word “unwinding” in quotes. It’s a significant notation singling out of a pivotal word that holds the drinking culture together. The concept of “unwinding” fits with the idea that alcohol consumption is earned, by a hard, stressful job completed. This wording positions alcohol as a tool, if not an ally, against stress, exhaustion, risk, and sacrifice. In the most extreme mythos, it is conferred on someone who has measured up to manhood (roughly 80 – 90% of respondents were male) – which could seem like a lot of psycho-babble, except that issues with alcoholism, according to the study, seem to decrease with age.

The good news cited by the study is that 50% of responders reported that after the Oklahoma City bombing they sought out friends as their “coping strategy,” while only 19% reported turning to alcohol. This suggests that community, friendship, and responder-brotherhood can be leveraged in the struggle against alcoholism. Connecting socially in non-alcoholic events might help reduce the firefighter perception that alcohol is a tool for handling stress. Efforts going on across the country have hit on this idea and are beginning to leverage the sense of community in creative ways as they develop systems to keep firefighters safe and mentally healthy. A successful change in culture will take time, dedication, ever more awareness and eventually wider standardization.

References: JSCI MedCentral Study



Mark Lamplugh Jr. is a fourth generation firefighter and former captain with the Lower Chichester (PA) Fire Company. He is now the Chief Executive Officer of 360 Wellness. . 360 Wellness has access to the best treatment centers and clinicians across the country. Let our experienced wellness specialists match you
with a treatment center or clinician that meets your needs and gets you on the road to full recovery as soon as possible. We make sure to get you the best possible help available. Call our wellness hotline and speak with a wellness specialist to help you find the best help possible: (800)901-1640

Mark W Lamplugh Jr
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Predicting Ethical Performance

In the world today ethics and morality are written about, debated, and are often the cause of much controversy in many public forums. In the fire service we see that this issue is also a point of contention. We see that ethics are ambiguous, hard to define, no matter how clearly defined they are organizationally. However, despite the controversial and ambiguous nature of ethics they are inherently necessary to the life of the public servant.

“Clearly, public service ethics has become a very broad and often ambiguous category that sometimes generates controversy as to what constitutes the term” (Zamor, p.1). Yet in the realm of public service, it continues to demand individuals of higher moral character and behavior while yet failing to produce a consistent example or mechanism of enforcement. Why is this so? One begins to wonder, with all of the emphasis on the individual how much of their ethical performance is determined by the organizational processes or culture?

• Will the members of higher moral character tire of doing the right thing because their cultural climate is ethically absent? Or ‘if the opportunity presents itself, and the risk of getting caught is low, and if the organization does not foster an ethical climate, then chances are fairly good that corruption will take place” (Zamor, p.6).

• Will a devout religious individual fail ethically if forced to choose between their principles and their paycheck?

• Will a compliance based ethical employee fail the organization if not given proper boundaries such as codes of ethics and organizational controls?

Denhardt asserts that ethics are “the process by which we clarify right from wrong and act on what we take to be right’ (Zamor, p.1). The phrase that should grab our attention is deemed ‘bureaucratic discretion’; wherein the public servant exercises his or her ability to make the proper decisions within the framework of organizational controls and codes of ethics. In firefighter terms, this is when he or she faces down an incident and has to make a decision.

As a firefighter we have our framework, the incident command system, and we understand our response protocols thus knowing our resource capabilities. We size up the problem, formulate the incident action plan, and move into action. On the average, firefighters are statistically consistent in these areas because of the constant training, accountability measures, and practice of these skills.

Yet in the realm of ethical decision making we seem hesitant and treat the decision as if it were a hazardous materials incident. We recognize, notify, identify/isolate, and protect if necessary because we know what we are dealing with may have consequences that outlive us. We sometimes put off making the decision or avoid it altogether which goes against the very nature of firefighters. In my opinion, the individual’s ethical performance is impaired or affected by the organizational processes for three main reasons:
• Claim without consistent conduct.
• Fears of financial loss.
• A lack of organizational controls and codes of conduct.

Claim without Consistent Conduct:
First, any individual who is employed in an organization that supports ethical behavior in policy but their organization fails to truly exemplify it in its daily actions will be setting the stage for ethical dilemmas. Policies without practice are mere words without meaning. In today’s social and political climate if one claims a specific religious belief they are often labeled intolerant but perhaps organizations should consider the value of the individual who has strong values from a faith based perspective other than a constant redefining of right and wrong based on politics and not morality? Others often shy away from the importance of spirituality and its correlative effect on individual ethical performance because of the abuses of the few cause many to judge the whole. Let us consider the ethical performance of an individual with strong faith based beliefs: “an individual’s spirituality is critical to his/her comprehension and perception of ethical behavior” (Zamor, p.6). But there are also many instances where as in our organizational ethics those who claim a strong spiritual foundation fail to practice their beliefs in all parts of their lives. The prophet Isaiah sums it up well: “The Lord says: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught” (Isaiah 29:13). And the inherent nature of an individual to ignore the code of conduct is summed up well in this quote:
‘Operational enforcement structures and procedures’ hence end up taking ‘the form of elegant plaques that are hung on the office walls and thereafter ignored. They may be quoted on ceremonial occasions, but never taken seriously enough to use in assessing the conduct of individual members” (Zamor, p4).

In firefighter terms, the organization’s member’s talk must match its talk. In all of the research it comes back to integrity. “It is the public servant’s internal moral character and individual conscience that is critical in ensuring that actions are ethical and are in line with the ethics codes, and that they are carried out with integrity and morality. Carl Friedrich (1935) stated that internal control and individual conscience are the core of ethical behavior and standards in the public service.” (Zamor, p.4). In short, if those who create the policies fail to follow the policies it breeds apathy and anarchy. Its members will stop believing in them and they will have lost all credibility.

Paycheck Principles:
Secondly, individual ethical performance is often compromised for financial reasons. Many employees have failed to speak up on matters of principle, unfair treatment, or other issues for fear of losing their job. An organization that has set a precedent by its informal culture of persecuting those who blow the whistle sets the stage for intimidating certain employees.

Compliance Based Ethics:
Lastly, we come to the compliance based ethical individual. The policies, procedures, and general statutes are specifically for these individuals and without these individuals tend to wander beyond the ethical boundaries. “Left to their own, some public servants may engage in selfish behavior. This is where external controls like rules and regulations, penalties and punishments that impose constraints on the conduct of public servants find usefulness” (Zamor, p.6).

Many departments fail to publish their code of ethics and S.O.G’s believing that ethical behaviors are common sense. These departments fail to be proactive and often react by writing a policy based upon an ethical breech and often resulting in the damage to the public’s trust. Thus the “Your name here-S.O.G.” is born. Each time an ethical dilemma is faced a new policy is written and each year the policy book grows thicker and the offenses continue. An organization must endorse, train, and educate its employees on its policies and processes. ‘When ethics training is successful, employees become aware of ethical choices and have the knowledge and resources to choose and carry out the right choices’ (Zamor, p.8).

Despite the organizational processes that may impact individual ethical performance “ultimately, public service ethics depend on the individual conscience of the public servants and the organizational constraints that may take the form of rules and regulations, codes of conduct, organizational process, structures, and culture” (Zamor, p.8). The ethical performance of the individual resides with the individual but the organizational processes can be a test of one’s moral character. It has been said that “the power of petition is based upon the depth of the relationship” (Dr. Larry Crabb) thus the ethical performance of an employee is may be judged by the depth of their conscience. An individual will do the ‘right thing’ in the difficult moments if their values are deeply rooted. Such “values are formed long before people enter public service” (Zamor p.8). This type of organizational ethical performance test could be invaluable for departments in screening future employees.

Another process that is critical to individual ethical performance that is often overlooked is the hiring process. Each organization would do well to conduct more research to discover if the person’s ethics they are about to hire truly align with the values of the department. Some employers are already using Emotional Quotient Testing in their hiring processes. There are Fire Departments in the U.S. who are currently using Emotional Quotient Testing in hiring and retention. One such example is a service called Zero Risk HR for Emotional Intelligence Pre-employment Assessment (http://www.zeroriskhr.com/). This is another type of organization control to insure the department is hiring those who value align with the organization. Chief Dennis Rubin, former Chief of Washington DC Fire states it well in his class “How not to hire idiots, thugs, and misfits.”

“It would be interesting to “dollarize” all of the costs associated with the discipline process that a department spends during a single year. Some examples are the personnel needed to investigate bad behaviors; the time and effort to document same; the cost to consult with outside agencies such as police or attorneys; if a member is suspended or terminated, calculate the replacement over-time costs; the aspect of spending time with the media explaining the situation and so on.” (Dennis Rubin)

In conclusion, the ethical performance of an individual can be affected by organizational processes but it is ultimately up to the individual’s values. These processes are in the news daily such as ‘Firefighters vote no confidence in Fire Chief’, “Former employee alleges firing was based on her whistle blowing efforts”, and “Fire Chief accused of making racial slur during meeting.” The examples given in this article show how the informal cultural processes of an organization can affect an individual’s ethical performance.

Works Cited:

Casey, Michael P. (2007) Emotional Intelligence for Emergency Service Leaders.
Retrieved from: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/pdf/efop/efo40416.pdf

Genevieve Enid Kyarimpa & Jean-Claude Garcia-Zamor (2006): The Quest for Public Service Ethics: Individual Conscience and Organizational Constraints, Public Money & Management, 26:1, 31-38

Rubin, Dennis. (2012). How not to hire idiots, thugs, and misfits. Fire Rescue1 magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.firerescue1.com/fire-department-management/articles/1377396-Hiring-plan-How-not-to-hire-idiots-thugs-and-misfits/

The Loss of Work Ethic

What is work? Is it burdensome or bothersome? Or is it the place where our passion is pursued and a part of ourselves receives fulfillment

Have the days of feeling satisfaction from a job well done gone by? 
Has the loss of morality and the endorsement of situational ethics caused us to lose hope in our work? 
Has the world of instant answers caused us to quit at the slightest sign of adversity?
Have we considered our own work ethic?
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17
Does anyone value:
Sweat falling from our brow…
Sore muscles from pushing past our limits…
Knowledge gained from a relentless pursuit of learning…
Making a difference and bearing the scars of our work…
Does this exist anymore?
My friends, the loss of work ethic is more tragic than we may realize. If we are unwilling to work hard, to seek out answers, and to push past our limits because its too hard or the world has beat us down; then how quickly will we quit on those we love when life becomes too hard for us then? Those who have a shallow work ethic will sacrifice little, slander much, and eat food at that they never earned. Those who sacrifice much for the benefit of others may have little material gain but will lay their heads down in peace. Their hearts will not be in turmoil nor suffer from moral bankruptcy. Those whose work ethic is pure will not conform to the pattern of the world.
“Therefore I urge you, brothers and sisters in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God-this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:1-2)
What is a living sacrifice? It is to offer the best of one self in spite of opposition. It is to offer our heart and soul to God even when the world continues to do evil and prosper. It is to be obedient to our belief in Him rather than giving into our selfish desires. It is to be broken and contrite but knowing that this is when God takes our empty hearts and fills it with His Spirit. It is to take hold of a new strength that is not our own. It is to fall upon our knees only to rise being lifted by the strong shoulders of Jesus. 
This is the work ethic that is missing: To work with all our might as if Jesus is our boss. For if He is truly our Lord, affirmation from others isn’t necessary nor required. If Christ is our focus, the hard work we put forth is not in vain but will be another star in our crown. For if we are carving our efforts into others hearts and not into plaques or certificates the dividends that will be paid to us will be in one powerful statement as we enter the gates of heaven:
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:21
Let us strive to live a life that is well done by God’s standard. May our work ethic remain steadfast and run the race until He calls us home. For our finish line is not made by human hands. Our efforts are not in vain and God is not overlooking our struggles. He is merely waiting upon our requests to be renewed, refilled, and strengthened by His Spirit. When we have reached the place where we realize we cannot do it by our own work ethic we have begun the journey to a significant existence rather than a successful one.
God Bless,
Andy J. Starnes
Bringing Back Brotherhood Ministries