Many people in the fire service talk about leadership but how many are actually good leaders. What defines a good leader? I am not sure anyone in this business has ever done that. I think both good firefighters and good leaders have a great deal of courage. I think good leaders have to make really difficult decisions. I think saving lives perhaps even our own takes many forms. I think good leaders have to try to save firefighters from themselves.
I have never had the pleasure of meeting Fire Chief Charles Hood of the San Antonio Fire Department but I like him. I first heard about Chief Hood after a San Antonio Ladder Truck rolled over in what he described in a T.V. interview as Reckless. He went on to start an innovative program of a round trip ticket home where he wants to send employee home the same way they came to work. Through disciplinary action taken against the crew that rolled the ladder truck, which was considered a total loss, Chief Hood sent a loud and clear message to all of his firefighters that it was unacceptable to operate fire apparatus recklessly in the City of San Antonio. Chief Hood loves his city and his firefighters so much and cares about safety, duty, honor and courage that he issued the following letter to all of his employee’s. This policy letter may be embraced by some and revered by others but most in the fire service must know this policy is long overdue.
Dear Members of the San Antonio Fire Department Family:
Throughout my tenure as Fire Chief I have had the unpleasant responsibility of addressing a wide range of disciplinary issues related to both on and off duty conduct. One area that has become increasingly troublesome is that of Firefighters arrested for the offense of driving while intoxicated.
In 2010, the San Antonio Fire Department rolled out a labor-management joint initiative that included alcohol awareness education and a disciplinary model intended to deter personnel from engaging in this type of conduct. At this point in time, it has become clear that this program did not produce the desired results. To the contrary, we have now witnessed a number of repeat offenders. It appears inevitable that, sooner or later, a member of our department will make the decision to drink and drive resulting in the serious injury or death of themselves and/or others. It is my duty to insure that I do everything within my power to see that this never happens. As emergency response personnel, we are all very cognizant of the devastating impact impaired drivers have on our community. It must become the goal of our department to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, the number of instances in which our Firefighters operate motor vehicles while intoxicated.
This memo shall serve as notice to all uniformed personnel that, effective immediately, the first offense of driving while intoxicated will result in an indefinite suspension. Based upon circumstances surrounding the arrest, a release and settlement agreement may be offered to the employee that will include a minimum sixty day suspension, as-well-as rehabilitation and counseling requirements. A second offense for driving while intoxicated will result in termination.
It is my sincere hope that this disciplinary model will effectively convey the severity of driving while intoxicated and deter personnel from engaging in this destructive behavior. I cannot do this alone; each and every employee must do their part. Discipline is a reactive necessity and we clearly need progressive steps to prevent these occurrences from happening. Plan your activities accordingly if you know you will be drinking alcohol. Having a designated driver is always preferable, but when that is not an option, personnel can take advantage of the “Take the High Road on the Highway Program” through Deer Oaks EAP Services. Deer Oaks will reimburse eligible employees and their dependents for cab fare in the event that they are incapacitated due to impairment by a substance or extreme emotional condition.
We must also identify our duty to take care of one another. Do not let a fellow Firefighter who has been drinking drive or operate a vehicle. If you have not been drinking, then offer our sister or brother a ride, or assist them by finding them a safe way home. We are leaders in our community and the patrons of our city look to us as an example of honor, duty, and courage. Remain steadfast on maintaining our high standards of service to our community and to each other.
Finally, the fire service has a well-documented culture of enablement, and the SAFD is no different. If you have an alcohol or substance abuse problem, or know someone that does, be proactive and seek out the help necessary before a truly life changing event occurs to you or someone you care about. You are our most valuable resource and we have created numerous programs to assist, help, and guide you through our Employee Assistance Program. Please do not hesitate to reach out for help.
Thanks to each and every one of you for what you do. Yours in Service, Charles N. Hood Fire Chief
I cannot speak for Chief Hood but I have to believe, having been a first line supervisor myself that on some fronts it had to be a difficult letter to write. However he had tried other initiatives to combat DWI that did not work. He loved the job and his firefighters so much, “Dear Members of the San Antonio Fire Department Family” that he is willing to be a true leader and make the difficult decisions. Some firefighters may say that it is no way to treat a brother or sister firefighters by threating to fire them. Honestly though if you are a San Antonio firefighter and you get terminated under this policy you fire yourself as you were given fair warning and a chance to get help.
Many fire chiefs not wanting to take the tuff issues on choose to do nothing in hopes that nothing happens on their watch. Chief Charles Hood choose to tackle the DWI issue head on and that is the sign of a true leader. You may not like Chief Hood or his Policy but you really have to respect him.
As a fire chief you should copy this page from Chief Hoods play book and enact this policy in your FD. Why? As a fire chief it is your responsibility to try to save firefighters from themselves.
FIREHOUSE MAGAZINE MARCH 2015
EMERGENCY VEHICLE OPERATIONS
BY MICHAEL WILBUR