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Dispatches: April 2013

You may not respect the person, but you still need to respect the rank.

March 25, 2013 
By Jennifer Grigg

You may not respect the person, but you still need to respect the rank.

I read this on Twitter recently and it started me thinking: Can you respect the rank of a captain or a higher-ranking officer if you don’t respect the individual?

It got me thinking about the people in my hall for whom I have a lot of respect. What is it about them that makes me think so highly of them? It seems to come down to a few key elements: personality, behaviour and trust.

Personality: The people for whom I have a lot of respect are those who are approachable and supportive; they’ll joke around with you when it’s appropriate and they are there for you when you need a hand.


Behaviour: Their behaviour is consistent and they practise what they preach. Knowledge is a powerful thing, and those who share their knowledge with others are the backbone of the fire service.

Trust: You really should feel a certain level of trust with all the members in your hall, whether we’re talking about going into a burning building with them or backing them up in another kind of situation, simply because you know they would do the same for you.

Someone who wears a red hat or a white hat does not necessarily have all those qualities. But the fact is that someone felt that this person deserved the opportunity to step into a leadership role, and you have to deal with that decision.

If you don’t feel that the respect is there for an officer in your hall, you need to ask yourself why. I’m not saying that you are the one with the problem. I’m just pointing out that if there is an officer in your hall for whom you don’t have respect, it’s in your best interest to figure out how you can still do the job, because I can almost guarantee that he or she isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Is it because you don’t trust that person’s judgment? Or is it perhaps that you don’t think that officer has the knowledge or skill set or even enough years of service to have been promoted? Is the problem that you applied for the position and someone else got it? These are all possible reasons, especially in a volunteer department.

So what can you do about it?

My inclination is always to talk it out. If I have an issue with someone (or if someone has an issue with me), I’d much rather sit down and talk it out than let it weigh on me. Granted, there is a time and a place for a conversation like that, and it’s definitely not on a fire ground, or in front of a group of firefighters. Often when there’s tension among members in a hall, it’s based on misunderstandings and it takes only a few minutes to clear the air. (OK, OK, maybe it can’t be solved in a few minutes because we all know how firefighters like to hash things out over and over and over, but hashing things out can definitely bring a level of understanding to the situation that wasn’t there before.)

It’s amazing what thoughts go through one’s head and what opinions are formed about other people and what they may or may not be thinking. You can easily convince yourself that you know exactly what a person is all about and think you have him or her figured out, only to find out later that you were completely wrong. It’s amazing what you find out about people when you actually take the time to talk with them, and, more importantly, to listen to them.

However, if talking to the person doesn’t appear to be an option, discussing your concerns with another officer may help to facilitate things. And there’s always your district, deputy and/or chief. Now, I’m no Dear Abby, and I’m not suggesting that all fire-hall conflicts can be solved over a cup of tea and a little chitchat – it would most certainly have to be coffee, for starters, but a Pollyanna I’m not. I just think that a lot of misunderstandings occur because we often make up our minds about people too quickly.

Having said that, there are definitely people who are better suited to taking on leadership roles than others; they are the ones who have the qualities that I mentioned earlier. Wearing a red hat doesn’t automatically mean that you have the respect of the guys and girls in your hall.

Respect is something that is earned, through your behaviour, your actions and your character. For some, it’s an automatic thing, for others it takes time. Leadership is something that’s demonstrated by officers and creates a loyal following by firefighters. It’s about encouraging others, helping them to realize their potential, and empowering them so that they know they have the abilities and knowledge to handle whatever is about to come at them.

But you don’t have to be an officer to be a leader. Anyone can lead, inspire and motivate others, regardless of helmet colour.

So, you may not respect the person, but do you still need to respect the rank?

What’s really important is that you respect yourself enough to treat everyone else with respect, because how you do anything is how you do everything.

It’s called integrity. And you have it.

Jennifer Mabee is a volunteer with the Township of Georgian Bay Fire Department in Ontario. She began her fire career with the Township of Georgian Bay in 1997 and became the department’s fire prevention officer in 2000 and a captain in 2003. She was a fire inspector with the City of Mississauga Fire and Emergency Services before taking time off to focus on family, and is excited to be back at it. E-mail her at and follow her on Twitter at @jenmabee

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