The National Firefighter Code of Ethics describes how on and off-duty paid and volunteer firefighters should behave. These guidelines cover how firefighters must act while at work, interacting with the public and in their personal lives. Firefighters must sign a copy of this Code of Ethics to acknowledge that they understand these expectations.
The Code of Ethics requires firefighters to avoid situations that may discredit, dishonor or embarrass themselves or the fire department. They must also act in a way that bolsters the trust placed in them by members of their community. For example, Seattle's Ethics and Elections Commission ruled that a firefighter misused his position when he demanded two all-access backstage passes to a Hannah Montana concert at the city's Key Arena. “The public places great trust in our professional,” Steve Austin, former president of the Cumberland Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association, said after the National Firefighter Code of Ethics was released in 2010. “We need to exercise good judgment in order to preserve that trust.”
The Code of Ethics outlines how firefighters must act in the workplace. For example, they must believe in fairness and support an inclusive work environment. They must also agree to respect antidiscrimination workplace policies and to never harass, threaten or intimidate other firefighters or members of the public. They also agree take care of themselves and their colleagues, their uniforms, fire-department equipment and the fire station itself.
Firefighters can’t lie, according to the Code of Ethics, and must always act honorably. Should their actions result in negative consequences, firefighters agree to take responsibility and accept the consequences. You can’t financially or personally benefit because you’re a firefighter. You also can’t be involved in anything that may cause a conflict of interest or even the perception that there is such a conflict. For example, David Nondorf, the former fire chief in Valparaiso, Indiana, resigned after the Valparaiso Ethics Commission ruled in 2011 that hiring his son as a firefighter was an ethics violation. The guidelines also cover how firefighters can use social networking sites and other electronic communication methods.
Alcohol and Drug Use
The Code of Ethics doesn’t outright ban a firefighter from drinking alcohol, but stipulates that a firefighter cannot use alcohol or another substance to the point of affecting their ability to work. They must also never abuse alcohol or other substances.
Firefighters agree to report any Code of Ethics violations. Violations may result in disciplinary actions, but these vary by state and fire department. Depending on the violation, a firefighter may face criminal charges. Failing to report violations, according to the Code of Ethics is the same as condoning the behavior, which is a violation in itself.
- U.S. Fire Administration: Firefighter Code of Ethics
- Firefighter Behavior: National Firefighter Code of Ethics Released
- National Volunteer Fire Council: Firefighter Code of Ethics
- New England Center for Investigative Reporting:Violating the Public Trust? A Five-Year Look at Massachusetts Public Servants Charged With Crimes and Ethics Violations
- Post-Tribune: Hiring Fire Chief's Son Ruled an Ethics Violation
- The Seattle Times: Ethics Commission finds Seattle Fire Department Lieutenant Misused Position
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