Recently I was made aware that there are fire/EMS departments which have created a series of initiation rituals which have become a sort of tradition over the years to be able to join their fire department. I have also been made aware of a fire/EMS department that would not allow a person to join their department because of their sex, and yet another department that members were being sexually harassed by other members including Officers of that department.
While much of this type of what is called “Harassment” has a long and storied history, let me suggest that the time has come to relegate them to the dustbin of history. To continue with these forms of subtle (and not so subtle) harassment may easily subject your fire/EMS department to action under the applicable local, state, and federal laws.
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Sexual Harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s position in the department, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s department performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.
Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate any type of harassment in the fire/EMS service. Departments are encouraged to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment and offensive conduct. They should clearly communicate to all members that unwelcome harassing conduct will not be tolerated and members should acknowledge that they understand a zero-tolerance harassment policy. They can do this by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, providing anti-harassment training to all members, and taking immediate and appropriate action when there is a complaint. We should strive to create an environment in which members feel free to raise concerns and are confident that those concerns will be addressed.
Members are encouraged to inform the harasser directly that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. Members should also report harassment at an early stage to prevent its escalation. Any form of harassment, including physical and verbal actions, can cripple the reputation of the fire/EMS department and its members and leaders.
Fire School information is out and on-line registration is available on the NSVFA web page. This year’s Fire School will be May 19, 20 and 21. Get signed up early!!!