Act Your Rank: Everyone wants the pay and title but can they do the job?


Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P | From the February 2008 Issue | Saturday, July 26, 2008

I just finished doing what I hate most about being a managerƒparticipating in hearings for employees who might lose their jobs. I was one of three chief officers who sat in on the hearing for an employee who had committed a serious infraction.

These assignments aren't easy for me. My decision can affect the rest of a person's life or their ability to feed their family and put a roof over their heads.

A former fire chief of mine fromSt. Louis once told me, ˙Everyone wants the pay and title, but can they do the job?Ó Can I make the hard decisions that will determine whether an employee remains a paramedic or will be looking through the job ads?

In this particular hearing, the employee didn't do anything malicious or with ill intent. He didn't harm a patient or crew member, and he didn't consciously decide he was going to break the rules. His infraction was failing to comply with administrative regulations that required him to earn enough continuing education units (CEUs) to keep his paramedic license active. The regulation even allows for employees without enough CEUs to take a test to recertify, but he didn't do that either. He simply didn't make the effort to keep his license up to date.

During the meeting with the hearing board, the employee said he didn't keep his license active because he was extremely busy as a single parent with three children and was working several jobs to stay ahead of the bill collectors. He was sincere and appeared to understand his career hinged on our final decision.

The quandary for the hearing board was obvious: The rules specify that an EMT or a paramedic must have a current medical license as a condition of continued employment, but how can we listen to this heart-tugging explanation and not bend the rules to allow him to remain on the job?

Authority vs. Camaraderie

For a manager who's reading this column, it goes without saying that our jobs aren't always pleasant. We have to make the hard decisions, ones we know will make an employee unhappy. And often, that employee will form an opinion of you and have plenty of choice words from their anatomy class in paramedic school that they'll use to describe you.

But I learned early in my management career that we can't make everyone happy, and if we try, we're asking for problems. One chief I worked with earlier in my career always wanted to be liked. He was ˙one of the guys.Ó He would hang out with the employees on their off-days, and they would go fishing, hunting and golfing. Other times, he would socialize with them at their homes, especially during football season. But when it came time to discipline someone for an infraction, he would conveniently lose the paperwork or let it sit on his desk too long.

It was apparent that he liked being popular, and the effect was that his employees no longer perceived him as their boss. In essence, the employees had free reign to do whatever they wished. Another chief we worked with said to me, ˙The inmates are running the asylum.Ó I wouldn't quite equate the employees to inmates, but clearly there was a collapse of organizational structure and accountability on that shift.

The opposite is true also. I've seen some mean-spirited managers and supervisors during my time. They actually relished the act of abusing their position of power to make an employee's life miserable by suspending or terminating them without good cause. One manager in particular would say, ˙I'll fire them, and they'll appeal, and they'll get their job back, and then I'll fire them again. I can repeat that process as long as I want to. I don't care if they get back pay, at least they'll be out of my hair.Ó

Doing What_s Right

There's no doubt that making the hard decisions isn't going to make you the most liked. But the best way to make a decision is to consider your rules and regulations, your department, and your customers. If you make a decision on the basis of what the employee would like to see happen or whether it will make you ˙one of the guys,Ó you're not serving your department as a manager.

As my former chief said, we have to do the job that comes with the pay and title. In the hearing board with the paramedic who no longer had a license, we had to do our jobsƒwe terminated the employee.

Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
Related Topics: Administration and Leadership, Leadership and Professionalism, Jems Leadership Sector

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Gary Ludwig, MS, EMT-P

is a deputy fire chief with the Memphis (TN) Fire Department. He has over 35 years of fire, EMS, and rescue experience. He is also the immediate past Chair of the EMS Section for the IAFC. He can be reached at


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