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Stop Bad: Present to represent


August 19, 2019
By Gord Schreiner

If you are going to wear the hat, wear it properly. Wearing a fire department hat (or other clothing) shows you are representing the name on it. You are a walking billboard for your organization, so put your best foot forward. It drives me (an old person) crazy to see firefighters wearing their hats sideways or backwards. I also do not like to see firefighters wearing damaged or dirty hats (or other branded clothing).

I was recently presenting some training to a group of about 50 firefighters from several different departments and noticed a few were wearing their hats wrong. As the day progressed, I could tell that in most cases the departments these firefighters came from had problems. Some were minor problems like dirty equipment, but in some cases they were major problems like lack of training or poor leadership.

It always amazes me how much I can tell about a department by seeing and talking to one of their members. A couple of my firefighters just returned from an external training course and noted that one of their instructors had their hat on sideways while instructing.

My firefighters know me well and knew that I would not be too happy to hear this.

A professional instructor wearing a hat sideways – are you kidding me? My firefighters went on to tell me that this instructor was also swearing a lot. Regardless of what they are teaching, this is not acceptable. It’s not very good when my firefighters are talking about the instructor’s hat and language and not the program. The program may have been great but when you have a “look at me” instructor presenting it, it loses something. What is a “look at me” instructor (or firefighter)? It is someone that does something to draw attention to themselves rather than to the program or department program. You lose credibility by disrespecting the brand. How you wear, what you wear and how you talk makes a big difference.

Our citizens trust and respect us. Please help to represent us well. Reach for a high standard and set the positive example for others to follow. Doing less waters down the system and allows others to also do less. Call others out who do not represent us well. I did just that recently when I noted to a 10-year member that wearing his hat sideways was hurting him as much, if not more, than it hurt the rest of the fire service. He initially thought that it wasn’t a big deal, but a month later he thanked me for calling him out and noted he feels better about his department and himself. He also noted that he called a couple others out also and they have made positive changes. He noted that in a short period he felt his department had improved and the firefighters had more pride in everything they did.

Sometimes the little things make a big difference. Challenge your fellow firefighters to be better. It might be as simple as wearing the hat straight or it might mean getting in better shape or training more. The result will be a better fire department and a stronger fire service.

In my department, if you are going to represent us (on or off duty), you better represent us well, as anything less would be considered a career-limiting move. Walk the walk, do not just talk the talk. Great firefighters represent their departments and the fire service well. They understand that every time they wear the brand or go to work they are representing not only their department but also the entire fire service. We need to hold each other accountable. We need to call the bad actors out.

I know our firefighters are just regular people, but we and the public expect more from us. Real firefighters act appropriately. When you accept a position as a firefighter, you have an obligation to represent us well. Nothing less is acceptable. If you can not do this, get out now. I know that 99 per cent of firefighters out there are doing the right things right. One of the most important things in your life should be your reputation and the reputation of the organization you represent. Good or bad, the people around you know your reputation. You are accountable for you – no one else is.

Do what is right and you should have no worries. Do wrong and you could lose your job and your reputation very quickly. I believe we (the fire service) need to continue being part of the solution by letting others know if their behaviour is unacceptable. It would be nice if they could figure this out themselves but sadly many can’t.

I would like to express a big thank-you to all the great firefighters out there who represent us so well.


Gord Schreiner joined the fire service in 1975 and is a full-time fire chief in Comox, B.C., where he also manages the Comox Fire Training Centre. Contact him at firehall@comox.ca and follow him on Twitter at @comoxfire


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