Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Righteous fire chief throws self on sword

Fire Chief Donald Barnes of the Shaker Heights (Ohio) Fire Department took a stand against more cuts to the fire department and it cost him his career. He is not the first chief to stand up for what he believed in and it cost him his career. I personally know several who have and I hold them in hero status. Nonetheless, it is a shame that fire chiefs have to throw themselves on the sword for the sake of trying to protect the lives and property of their citizens.

As fire chiefs, we take an oath to protect our citizens and that includes never doing anything that would jeopardize their safety. When a fire chief feels they are violating their oath, then they have to take a firm line.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of fire chiefs who would rather roll over and do whatever the administration wants done for the sake of saving their jobs. While that is shameful, it is also the stark reality that some leaders are more selfish than righteous.

I have always taken the stand that I would do what is right without regard to what the consequences are. It has cost me dearly on several occasions but at least I am able to wake up in the morning and look myself in the mirror and know that I did the right thing when I stood up to my boss.

There have been, along the way, a few times when I did acquiesce to the boss and did what I was told to do, even when I knew the outcome held great potential to harm public safety and firefighter safety. When that happened, I found myself wallowing in guilt and praying every one of many sleepless nights that no one would be harmed from the decisions I had been forced into making. It was a miserable existence.

I applaud Chief Barnes and I am confident he will land on his feet. As for the administration in Shaker Heights, I am hopeful that your residents will revolt against you for what you have caused to occur. You are one step closer to balancing your budget by saving $140,000 of pay and benefits from your fire chief. Congratulations. Your budget shortfall is nearly solved. Don’t worry at all about the consequences of public safety or fire department morale you have destroyed.

Richard B. Gasaway, PhD, EFO, CFO

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