When a little boy dreams about being a firefighter he probably isn’t expecting one of the biggest priorities of his boss will be to make sure he has his shirt tucked in. Being a firefighter seems like a pretty straightforward job. You drive big trucks, put up ladders, drag hoses and spray some water on fire. For some reason when you put a bunch of people together in the fire station you end up with a whole bunch of silly rules.
In my opinion some of the silliest rules involve uniforms. Over my career there have been about 10 changes to the uniform rules. For a while we were allowed to wear t-shirts whenever we wanted to. A button up shirt was only found in the lockers for a couple years. That was followed by button up shirts with badges during “business hours,” which was determined to be from 8am until 5 pm. For a while we were expected to put on a button up shirt when we woke up at night, even though that shirt was shortly covered with a bunker coat there was no exception. I guess someone thought that we would look better to a homeowner after we put out their house fire if we were all sweaty in a uniform shirt instead of a t-shirt.
It is amazing how someone can advance up the ranks and change their opinion and enforcement of the rules at every step. A firefighter that we will call Fred for this article was not very punctual when it came to arriving at work. He also spent a lot of his work days wearing a t-shirt that had the logo of his favorite team, instead of the appropriate fire department logo. He often wore gym shoes and was proud of his white socks. Over a period of 15 years this guy went from firefighter to Assistant Chief. During his reign he would often approach firefighters and request to see their socks to make sure they were wearing dark colored socks. As an adult I never really appreciated that sock check, I chose to wear boots so my socks were exempt.
Most of the silly rules come from a knee jerk reaction from a Chief officers as a result of someone doing something stupid. Stupid things happen all the time, and the fire station is no exception. One of the silliest things is to implement a backing-up rule because someone backed into the station. I don’t think there is anyone on any fire department that tries to back into the building. At one point my department implemented a “wake up” rule. The station officer was required to make sure everyone was up early enough to be out the door at shift change. The Chief wanted to eliminate the time that was wasted with the off-going shift visiting with the shift coming on duty. That was a big mistake that still hurts our department every day.
Silly rules can really hurt the fire service. The biggest problem with silly rules is that they never go away. These rules get put in the book and get pulled out from time to time, and a lot of times the reason they get pulled out is not a good one. The best rules are those that are not written in stone. We are all going to do silly things or make a mistake sometime, it doesn’t matter if there is a rule against it. Administrators need to take out that book of regulations and decide if they need to keep all that garbage. Rules don’t prevent mistakes, and wearing a badge and tucking your shirt in doesn’t make you a better firefighter. Use some common sense when it comes to rules.