Business Ethics in the Fire Research Paper

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2). These are important issues because fire chiefs are routinely confronted with actual ethical dilemmas that involve conflicting or competing public and private values as well as corresponding conflicting professional responsibilities (Haraway & Kunselman, 2009). This point is also made by Pammer and Killian (2003) who cite the expanded responsibilities of both fire chiefs and line personnel in recent years. According to these authorities, "A successful fire chief today is assessed according to his or her administrative capabilities, educational level, and experience at managing programs. Premiums are placed on personal commitments to customer service, managing diversity, and notions of economy and efficiency" (Pammer & Killian, 2003, p. 132).


"Line personnel have found themselves inundated with change: new initiatives, programs, and philosophies (i.e., Total Quality Management, Data-Driven Decision Making, Benchmarking and Value-Added Service Delivery) that are both confusing and seemingly unrelated to emergency mitigation."

"Resistance and frustration are common. Staff personnel, responsible for introducing the progressive initiatives, find line resistance to be confusing, narrow-minded, and risk-averse. As further change is introduced, confusion abounds. As confusion abounds, resistance amplifies" (Pammer & Killian, 2003, p. 131).

One area in which fire chiefs frequently encounter ethical dilemmas is in the human resource function. Irrespective of the jurisdiction, all fire chiefs have a professional obligation as moral public leaders committed to the principle of merit to exercise their administrative discretion by accepting only qualified candidates for the position of firefighter (Haraway & Kunselman, 2009). In some cases, though, "The fire chief's positional authority to use his administrative discretion in a responsible way is subordinated to managerial and political manipulation and self-interests" (Haraway & Kunselman, 2009, p. 2).

Certainly, nepotism and cronyism can creep into even the best-managed fire department if complacency and lack of due diligence is allowed to develop, but fire chiefs can also experience enormous political pressure to act in ways that may be contrary to their ethical perspectives. Consequently, fire chiefs must be free to exercise their professional discretion in the hiring process without undue influence or interference from political superiors. As Haraway and Kunselman point out:

Here the key points are: self-interest divides people far more than do ethical considerations and in exercising certain aspects of governmental authority, government employees must be exempt from the democratic principle of subordination to political leadership in the responsible use of their administrative discretion. (2009, p. 2)

Nevertheless, fire chiefs are required to formulate decisions every day that can have political implications and the manner in which they use their administrative discretion may be cause ethical concerns (Haraway & Kunselman, 2009). Despite these tendencies, fire chiefs that possess an ethical compass can navigate their way through these dilemmas, even when there are political pressures involved. For instance, Haraway and Kunselman note that, "Prudent ethical administrators understand their sense of duty or ethical responsibility to faithfully administer and implement public law effectively while resisting political interference, meddling, or partisan pressure" (2009, p. 2).

Clearly, ethical decision-making can be a challenging enterprise under optimal conditions, but fire chiefs who are confronted with conflicting responsibilities or interests must "keep their eye on the ethical prize" and subjugate personal interests and feelings in favor of what is in the best interests of the fire service. In this regard, Haraway and Kunselman emphasize that, "This model of personal responsibility holds that the discretion exercised by bureaucrats is constrained by their individual sense of responsibility and ethics. Viewed from this perspective, the fire chiefs must understand their sense of duty or ethical responsibility to pursue public service values and beliefs rather than succumb to political pressure, manipulation and self-interests" (p. 2). These types of value systems can provide public managers including fire chiefs with a framework, at least, to assess the divergent interests that are involved (including personal interest) in formulating ethical decisions. As Haraway and Kunselman point out, "Public service values are embedded in the American political regime and represent constitutional principles that guide the ethical analysis and moral reflection required of public administrators in the responsible use of their administrative discretion" (p. 2).

The use of administrative discretion extends to the manner in which statistical data for reporting are collected and maintained. According to Hirschfield and Bowers (2001), "The current structure of the fire service is inherently spatial in terms of both administrative and service delivery organization. To a great extent the fire service is defined by a hierarchy of spatial boundaries nesting within national boundaries" (p. 37). This hierarchal division of boundaries can introduce ethical dilemmas when compiling statistics for higher echelons to review (Hirschfield & Bowers, 2001). In this regard, Hirschfield and Bowers (2001) report that, "National fire statistics are compiled and published on an annual basis and report aggregate data at brigade level. Any reporting or analysis of fire service incidents below this level has historically been left to individual brigades to undertake" (p. 38). By picking and choosing which statistics to collect and report, fire chiefs can positively influence their performance ratings and become unjustly enriched in the process (Hirschfield & Bowers, 2001).

Beyond the foregoing human resource management ethical issues, a growing body of research indicates that women are routinely discriminated against in the fire service in many countries (Rosell, Ellen; Miller, Kathy et al., 1999). According to Rosell and her colleagues, "Women entering male-dominated occupations have encountered negative reactions and harassment in the sex-segregated workplaces. Male resentment ranges from subtle discrimination in job assignments, performance evaluations, and promotions to overt hostile treatment" (1999, p. 340). The research to date suggests that women in traditionally male jobs such as firefighter tend to encounter more sexual harassment compared to women employed in traditionally female occupations (Rosell et al., 1999). The studies to date suggest that women in the fire service are so few in number as to facilitate this type of employment discrimination. In this regard, Rosell et al. (1999) emphasize that it is in the organization's best interest to ferret out and eliminate these types of unethical human resource practices. According to Rosell et al.:

The literature suggests that their minority status in the fire service may magnify their vulnerability to sexual harassment. Women firefighters are vulnerable to sexual harassment in the gendered workplaces of public organizations. Protecting public employees from sexist behavior and the public agency from sexual harassment charges simply reflects good management sense. (p. 340)

There are some steps that fire chiefs can take to help address sexual discrimination and harassment against women in the fire service, including the following:

1. Publicizing management commitment through a policy statement that clarifies the unacceptable behaviors, spells out the penalties and disciplinary process for violations, and holds supervisors responsible for conduct in their units through the performance appraisal system.

2. Efficient and responsive complaint channels that take allegations seriously, process them as violations of the law, protect the victim, and provide counseling for the involved parties.

3. Effective enforcement imposing penalties against the perpetrators and those who knowingly allow the behavior.

4. Ongoing and required sexual harassment awareness training for supervisors and all employees that educates them in how to keep the workplace free from sexual harassment and how to handle and report complaints, and, just as important, provides them with opportunities for informally communicating and sharing their perceptions about appropriate behavior between the genders in the workplace.

5. Periodic monitoring of the workplace through anonymous and confidential surveys of all employees with results posted, distributed, discussed in sexual awareness training sessions, and monitored by management.


The research showed that the fire service enjoys a special place in human society and these individuals are widely regarded as the epitome of ethical behavior based on their selfless commitment to their fellow citizens. The research also showed, though, that both line personnel and fire chiefs are confronted with a myriad of ethical dilemmas in the course of their day-to-day operations that may defy easy resolution. Complicating matters for many fire services are the expanded roles that personnel, including fire chiefs, have been required to perform in recent years. In the final analysis, professional codes of ethics are a valuable starting point for determining the best course of action in an ethical dilemma, but individuals' core values and moral compass also play a critical role in shaping responsive behaviors in unethical situations.


Fitzpatrick, D.P. (2006, Fall). Moving beyond the noble cause paradigm: Providing a unified theory of ethics for 21st Century American policing. Forum on Public Policy: A Journal

of the Oxford Round Table, 37-40.

Fleming, R.S. (2010, Fall). Balancing the evolving roles of the fire service executive. Business Renaissance Quarterly, 5(3), 133-137.

Haraway, W.M. & Kunselman, J.C. (2009, Spring). Ethical leadership and administrative discretion: The fire chief's hiring dilemma. Public Personnel Management, 35(1), 1-4.

Hirschfield, a. & Bower, K. (2001). Mapping and analyzing crime data: Lessons from research and practice. London: Taylor & Francis.

Hrncir, T.J. & Metts.…[continue]

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