03/06/10 517 W - + 5 - 3 Thoughts on the Survey

Where to begin, where to begin? Well, first and foremost, the hazing discussion and subsequent survey prompted a personal reaction. For several days, memories of my first few (and only few) years in the fire department flooded back. The looking glass brought retroactive understanding, both intellectual and emotional, about that formative period.

Career firefighter in Raleigh in 1989. Was I razzed? Some. Was I hazed? No. Was the station family challenging to understand and integrate into? You betcha. Yours Truly had zero awareness of the fire service back-end, and the subtle (and overt) nuances of the station family was a brave new world.

That's also a perspective seen in survey and blog comments. More people are entering the profession from outside occupations, noted one survey respondent. Does that make them less-suited for station life? Or maybe just a learning curve that's a little steeper?

Now let's apply that to the survey. What do the questions and answers look like to an outsider? For someone who wants to be a firefighter, they might be taken in stride. What about the rest of the world? What's a city manager, county official, newspaper editor, civic leader, or regular citizen to think, should they read those questions and comments? 

Yet, in the confined space of a fire station, hard play happens. People pick. Bonds form. Families become.

Another issue is the law, which we haven't discussed. Which of those behaviors in our survey are illegal? As one comment notes, restrained and unwanted physical contact is assault. (And which about 90% of respondents labeled as hazing.) For those chiefs and/or human resources officers reading, what's your (or your department's) tolerance for illegal behavior? Is the aforementioned behavior grounds for demotion or dismissal?

Let's also step aside and acknowledge that behaviors were tougher in older days. As one blog reader recalled the experiences of his father and grandfather, battery acid in the shower, electric shocks from lamps, and greased fire poles are a fair step beyond the behaviors described in our survey. Should we adjust our tolerance accordingly, and permit some hard play because it's nonetheless less severe than older forms? Not sure about that.

Also, a survey respondent mentioned losing 200 years of tradition, if hazing and razzing aren't properly defined. Since I am a historian, I call foul on this one. Though I am aware of many 200+ year traditions in the fire service, I don't have a good historical sense of how new people were treated a couple centuries ago. Maybe it does stretch that far back, but I can't be sure.

So what's off-limits regarding razzing or hazing? Based on the survey, anything involving PPE or personal property is a big no-no. The former can result in injury or death. The latter can result in a@@ whippings, as one blog commenter commented.

Several respondents said a "part of the job" survey category would have been useful. They are likely referring to the station duties questions, which were intentionally included as likely examples of neither hazing nor razzing. Most respondents agreed.

What else? More thoughts later.

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