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National Spotlight on Ethics: IAFC Ready to Respond

March 15, 2010

Return to March 15
issue of On Scene

U.S. Fire Administrator Chief Kelvin Cochran has called upon the fire service to embrace the recommendations of a report released last week calling for a Fire Service Code of Ethics.

The national fire and emergency service community is buzzing after the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen's Association released the Fire Service Reputation Management White Paper last week, and many departments are looking for resources.

“It’s exciting that so many people are getting energized around ethics,” said IAFC President Chief Jeff Johnson. “The IAFC shares the concern that reports of ethics violations in the fire service are on the rise and has recently been working on revisiting and strengthening education and accountability efforts. The IAFC is ready to work with the community to answer Chief Cochran’s call to action.”

The IAFC has a number of resources currently available to members to start working on developing a code of ethics for their department.

  1. A Code of Ethics for Fire Chiefs was developed and adopted by the IAFC board of directors in 2003. In addition to laying out expectations for department leadership, it recommends having a system in place at the local level to resolve ethical issues and orienting new employees on the program at the time they enter the department.
  2. The IAFC has a number of other positions that can contribute to a broader ethics policy, including:
    1. Zero-Tolerance for Alcohol & Drinking in the Fire & Emergency Service
    2. Human Relations and Inclusiveness
    3. No Tolerance for Discriminatory Behavior in the Fire and Emergency Service
  3. This past fall, the IAFC board of directors adopted a formal IAFC Rules of Conduct and Enforcement Process for IAFC members. The process articulates expectations for IAFC members’ behavior in regard to their engagement with IAFC, and it provides a forum for members to hold other members accountable for unethical behavior. It ensures due process for any member accused of unethical conduct and provides the association greater flexibility to take disciplinary action.
  4. Over the past few years, the IAFC has been developing a comprehensive set of values for the IAFC board of directors, members and staff. While not specific to ethics, these values—directly developed and agreed upon by those they concern—set the tone for how members and staff engage with each other and the community.

Fire and EMS leaders should also investigate if guidance and resources are available at the state level. Many states have instituted aggressive ethics laws for public officials and staffed enforcement branches to penalize offenders. In Oregon, for example, public officials (career and volunteer) are not allowed to accept a discount (e.g., at a grocery store, restaurant or golf course) of any kind unless it's available to the general public.

“Leaders need to understand that this is more than pen to paper,” continued Johnson. “Code of ethics and rules of conduct are no use if they aren’t lived every day and used to hold people accountable, even when it’s unpopular. That takes courage, and that deserves our support.”

Keep watching IAFC On Scene for continued information about how the IAFC is engaging in the national conversation about ethics.

Ann Davison, CAE, is the strategic information manager for the IAFC.