Dec 14, 2021 Uncategorized

Ethics in the fire service

Everything we do or don’t do, is a choice that affects both our lives and the lives of others. Ethics is about making choices based on rational principles and common values rather than self-interest or quick-returns.

Making ethical decisions is about:

having integrity with the principles of our profession
being consistent with our own beliefs
coordinating both ends and means
living in harmony with common ethical values
being consistent about what is thought to be right or wrong
treating others as we want to be treated
understanding facts, alternatives, and consequences
understanding how other people think and feel
being discerning in right vs right situations

Required reading:

Ethics textbook by John Maxwell

Below are some examples of ethical issues in firefighting:

  1. The local fire department is working a fire in a liquor store. The fire is knocked down, and one firefighter is assigned to remain on the scene as a fire watch. The health inspector has condemned the entire stock of liquor, and the contents of the store will be destroyed later that day. The firefighter finds two undamaged cases of liquor and takes them home. When confronted about this action, the firefighter responded, “The liquor was going to be destroyed anyway, so I didn’t think anyone would mind if I took some home.”
  2. A fire captain assigned to inspect a nursing home doesn’t even bother to visit the building but fills out the required reports fraudulently. When his superiors confront him, he replies, “They never do anything with the inspection reports; no one does them anymore.” The captain steadfastly defends his actions by blaming the department for not following up on inspections.
  3. Two manufacturers request occupancy permits for their individual construction projects. One company is owned and operated by a citizen from a nearby community; the other, by the brother of a city councilor. In both cases, exit facilities have been properly installed but are blocked by construction materials stored in the outside path of exit. The assigned inspector rejects both properties. The fire prevention chief receives a call from the city councilor to discuss the upcoming fire department budget hearings. During the conversation, he mentions that his brother needs that occupancy permit and the councilor would appreciate any assistance the chief could give him in that matter. The chief issues occupancy permits for one or both properties. When questioned about this action, the chief says, “The fire department needs the councilor’s support in the upcoming budget review. I approved the permit for the good of the department.”

These are common examples of the types of ethical issues fire service personnel may encounter. In each example, the firefighter employee rationalized his actions. The firefighter decided it was okay to take two cases of liquor because it would be destroyed anyway. The captain didn’t do his inspection because the department wouldn’t follow up on violations properly. The fire prevention chief claimed he was acting in the best interest of the fire department.[1]

Ethical decision making refers to the process of evaluating and choosing among alternatives in a manner consistent with ethical
principles. In making ethical decisions it is necessary to:

Notice and eliminate unethical options – right vs wrong. Ethical thinking requires a sensitivity to perceive the ethical implications of decisions.
Evaluate complex, ambiguous and incomplete facts. It is often difficult to obtain all the necessary information.
Select the best ethical alternative. Resolve any ethical dilemmas – right vs right. Not all ethical responses to a situation are equal.
Have an ethical commitment, ethical consciousness, and ethical competency. Ethical thinking and decision-making take practice.
Noticing the ethical issues and being committed to act ethically are not always enough – reasoning and problem-solving skills are often necessary.


Write a 3-5 page paper single spaced, using 12 point font that responds to the following:

Describe a real ethical decision that you have faced or know about in your work.
Outline how you would make and implement an ethical decision using the process described above.
Your response should illustrate your understanding of ethics and ethical issues in firefighting and meet the minimum length requirements.
A successful paper will demonstrate accurate comprehension of the Maxwell text and the links provided above, by providing citations and making appropriate references.


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