Why a bully-free EMS workplace is 'just correct'

Take responsibility for building and improving a department culture through good words and deeds, not disparaging ones


The news that a female firefighter, who died by suicide, had also received numerous sexist and harassing comments in social media should give us pause for concern. At this point in the investigation, it's very unclear whether there was a causal relationship between the death of Nicole Mittendorff and the messages; time will tell.

However, there have been other recent, well-publicized suicide deaths that may have been triggered by such bullying behavior. One of the most recent is the death of Evan Ziemniak. He was bullied at school and his parents are speaking out to prevent other tragic deaths.

The vast majority of public safety providers genuinely care about each other and their communities. We work alongside folks who don’t look like us, but feel the same passion for the work we do. The desire to serve the community crosses all boundaries: race, sex, gender identity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation and socioeconomic status.

Nevertheless, it’s perturbing and disturbing that in 2016 bullies continue to roam EMS and fire stations across this nation. It's even more alarming that bullying behavior can be so ingrained in a department’s culture that mid- and senior management allow it to flourish through benign neglect.

A major role of leadership is to provide a safe workplace, including one that is free from harassment. Common sense, not federal law should be the driver of creating strong, fair policies that guide workplace behavior, rewarding those that promote teamwork and just culture, and punishing acts that can harm not just one individual, but a whole class of employees and the entire department.

Staff is also not absolved from being responsible to each other. We sit through hours of mandated training, reading the same bulletins year after year. But until it becomes an organizational norm that personal bias has no role in workplace behavior, we’ll continue to numb a lot of brain cells just going through the routine.

As for the accusations that all of this harassment-free stuff is just "political correctness," it’s not. Just call it "correct." This is stuff that parents should have told their children and school teachers should tell their students, long before they ever get to the workplace. 

Personal bias is fine. You are entitled to your opinion. But we don’t live in caves by ourselves.

Our lives today are tightly connected, both online as in person. Things that are said out of ignorance and meanness get amplified and take on greater meaning in an always-on world. It becomes very difficult to understand what impact such behavior will have on individuals, groups of people or entire departments.

But there is an impact. We can make sure it’s a positive one, through good words and deeds, not disparaging ones.

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