The 50/50 Game

When you’re in a position of authority, the decisions you make whether on the fireground or in the back office are going to have consequences. The consequences I’m referring to are the very members of your department. The fire service has an interesting mix of people with different thought processes and personalities, and it’s almost impossible to cater to every one of their needs. Because of this, you can understand that your decisions are not going to make everyone happy. I call this the 50/50 game because you have to assume that at least half the members will not be happy with a certain decision you make. What you have to figure out, is which half you’re going to cater to and why.

Let’s start with how certain decisions are made. Most topics that come up where you have to figure out the best option can be easily handled by department bylaws, rules, and regulations. Even when you abide by these rules, you’ll still have some unhappy people. However, a lot of these rules can be vague, which is why there’s an established chain of command, to help make the best choice when these scenarios present themselves. This can be a daunting task. There’s a lot at stake here between your reputation as an officer and making sure the department runs efficiently.

When an issue arises and it’s up to you to make a call, there’s a few things to keep in mind and be aware of. First is making sure that your decision is in the best interest of the department as a whole – feelings aside. The main purpose of a Fire Department is to serve and protect your community. That should always be top of mind. Second is piggybacking off of the first, meaning which half of the members do the most for your department? Who are the guys that are constantly putting in 100% of the effort? Those are the members you want to keep happy. The other half are the members that do the bare minimum, but always have something to say. Regardless of what decisions you make, even if it’s in their favor, you will still get backlash for whatever reason. Once you have that in mind, you should be able to figure out what’s more important.

Making a decision in favor of the latter half will have some detrimental effects on your department. I’ve seen officers make choices based on the opinions of these people just to try and save face. It doesn’t work out for them. If you do this, you’ll lose the 100% effort from the other half of the members and it will lead to the opinionated guys having even more negative opinions about you. These types of people always tend to have a negative attitude and even if you make a decision that benefits them, they’ll find another reason to shame you.

The key here is understanding that as an officer, you are the face of your department. The outside world doesn’t care about the opinions of people in the firehouse, they care that if they call 911, they will get the professional response they’re looking for. That being said, you want to make decisions that will keep the better half of your department active and willing to improve so that the community you protect gets the level of service they pay for. Doing anything other than that is irresponsible if you’re looking to make yourself popular in the eyes of the lazy.

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