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StopBad: The truth about bad apples

April 15, 2021
By Gord Schreiner

It’s true: One bad apple can spoil the whole bunch.

I am in my 46th year in the fire service. I still feel young and think I have a more to offer. I have built a reputation of being a hard-working, honest and ethical man. I do not believe there is any other path in life. We have no room in our industry for those who do not want to do the right things!

Over the years, I have met a lot of great people and I have made many lifelong friends in the fire service. On the other hand, I am embarrassed by the very few bad apples that are out there. There have been a number of stories about firefighters, including chief officers, behaving inappropriately. I, like many others, strongly believe that good leadership is vital to a healthy organization. If leaders are behaving poorly or allowing poor behaviour from their firefighters, the negative effects ripple through the entire organization. Some of these firefighters were bad characters to begin with and should never have been hired in the first place. You cannot change a person’s character by hiring or promoting them. With this in mind, we need to do our part to ensure that we hire the best and teach them the importance of ethics. We need to let them know that inappropriate behaviour is not accepted in our organizations. Very simply, we need to lead by good example.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of stories about firefighters behaving badly. So many that I think we could start a reality series titled “Bad Apples”.There would be a lot of content. The episodes would include stories of firefighters making racist remarks, drinking and driving, drinking in public vehicles or at their fire stations, drug use, misuse of public vehicles, misuse of public funds, inappropriate relationships, conflicts of interest, fake degrees, treating our customers poorly, improper training . . . need I go on?

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Poor behaviour such as this is totally unacceptable; it’s shameful and it blemishes the entire fire service. It is hard to believe these things happen. One would hope only the best would be hired (including volunteers firefighters) or promoted. The problem is an individual’s bad behaviour can negatively affect the reputation of the fire service. Today, with the reach of social media, stories are now shared much easier and faster than ever before. Make a mistake in the morning and it is possible that millions of people will know about it by lunch time.

I know firefighters are just regular people, but we should still expect them to behave properly, at the very least. I would hope that they would go above and beyond to demonstrate great character. As a firefighter, you have a duty to act appropriately. When you accept the position you have an obligation to be honest and ethical; anything less is unacceptable. If you can’t do this, get out now. While 99 per cent of the firefighters out there are doing the right things right, a small percentage of bad firefighters are making us all look bad. One of the most important things in your life should be your reputation and the reputation of the organization you represent. Good or bad, your reputation is known by the people around you. You are accountable for yourself, no one else is. Do what is right and you should have no worries; do wrong and you could lose your job and your good reputation very quickly. I believe all fire service members can be a part of the solution by letting others know if their behaviour is unacceptable. (It would be nice if they could figure this out by themselves, but sadly, many can’t). Tell them their poor behaviour (and bad reputation) hurts us all. Annual surveys show that the fire service is one of the most trusted professions. This will surely change if we do not take the necessary steps to address this problem. There are a lot of great people in the fire service who are ready to step up and make a positive difference. Let’s call bad apples out and let them know that their inappropriate behaviours are unacceptable. By doing so, you might help them correct their careers before it is too late, and you will help us all continue to make the fire service better; you may even help save lives.

I have a reputation of speaking up and saying what is on my mind and I plan to continue to do this until I retire. If I think something is wrong, I will say so. I ask that you do the same.

Please stay safe out there!


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. He has delivered countless presentations in fire stations all over Canada and is available to assist your department in many areas. For more information please contact: Chief Gord Schreiner, firehall@comox.ca. 


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