Is there something in the water? Recent stories of leadership faux pas by fire chiefs, including allegations of criminal and racial activities are damaging the reputation of their departments and the fire service in general. Dave Statter’s blog, Statter911 features several stories of fire chiefs caught in the media cross hairs, as a result of a leadership phenomena I call Fire Service Arrogance Career Killer (FSACK) . With apologies to Mr. Statter, who coined the term “Social Media Assisted Career Suicide Syndrome” (SMACSS), FSACK is not social media specific. Rather, it is what a fire service leader becomes when they put on a spectacular displays of arrogance through public denial of misdeeds or mismanagement, even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Here are just a few eyebrow raisers.
A Seattle news reporter digs into allegations of DUI convicted firefighters being allowed to drive city fire apparatus. The Seattle fire chief ignored repeated interview requests to discuss the allegations until the mayor orders him to. Then, he goes on camera and basically says he knows nothing about it, coming across as defensive, out of touch and basically “checked out” as a fire chief (he is retiring at the end of the year).
Next we move to Rhode Island, where a local news crew went undercover to follow around a fire chief who used his department rig to run personal errands and go to social events where he allegedly drank booze, smoked dope, and then drove home in the same rig. Their digging also revealed he had a suspended license for a short period of time while they were watching him. Unlike Seattle’s fire chief, this chief sat down with the reporter and answered very uncomfortable questions about what they observed. Some of his answers seemed legit. Others….not. so. much…. Adding insult to injury, his department is reportedly considering filing for bankruptcy.
Next, let’s take a look at a “local yokel” Kentucky fire chief confronted by a local TV reporter at a public meeting. Not only does he try to bully the reporter, he makes several veiled racial comments about her ethnicity. Later, the same news channel reveals a video capturing this chief making overtly racial statements at the scene of an accident. His fire service career is likely over as well, and in this case I say; Good Riddance.
Don’t think the blood is only being dumped on public officials. Here’s a news story points out an epic display of arrogance(and invasion of privacy) towards a journalist by an executive of the transit company Uber.
These examples of failed leadership have a common theme, arrogance. Merriam Webster Dictionary defines arrogance as; “an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people”.
Displays of arrogance by public officials is akin to dumping blood in the water for reporter sharks looking for a story. Often, they don’t have to look very far, as disgruntled citizens and employees are quick to dump buckets of evidence in their laps.
The bad news is in today’s hyper-connected news environment these stories don’t stay local for long. The leaders noted above will soon be known as FSACK’s. The good news is they offer current fire service leaders an opportunity to look at their own actions and attitudes to avoid this label.