Once upon a time I came to work to be greeted by a supervisor who invited me into the conference room for a chat—rarely a good way to start the day. What now? Did I forget to sign out the narcs? Antagonize a citizen? Chafe a nurse? Put my name badge on upside down? Fail to address dispatch using the prescribed terminology? Was I overheard verbally abusing my PCR laptop after it froze for the third time during the same shift?
In my paramedic life I've been shuffled to a lot of different stations. At the time, I had worked several shifts at one particular station, a bizarre little island on the far edge of a large city where they average about a run a day. Although never a friendly place (idle hand do the devil’s work, I think), over a period of a couple of weeks it had become increasingly frosty, and I had no idea why. Then I found out, sort of.
The supervisor told me she had been called in by one of the station’s officers with a long list of complaints … about me. Now I’ve gotta tell you, after more than 25 years of doing this job, I’m acutely aware of the interpersonal hazards of EMS crews stationed at fire houses. I even wrote an article about it once, “The Management Pain Scale: Tools for Measuring Risk and Resolving Conflict,” and I can guarantee you I spent my time in this particularly hostile work environment walking on eggshells. I thought I knew all about firehouse etiquette, pecking orders, sacred spaces, rites du passage and ostracism. Apparently, after all those years, I still didn’t get it right.
So what outrages did I perpetrate against this particular crew? Well, from what I could gather, I was perceived as being some kind of a slobbering wild pig running rampant through the station, farting, belching, leaving sweaty workout clothes strewn about, rooting through the fridge with abandon and, perhaps worst of all, slurping my linguini—a firehouse Shrek. Not only that, apparently I’d been counseled about my boorish behavior on a number of occasions, yet persisted in my sloth. Oh my.
So it seems that, no matter how hard I tried to get along, stay out of the way, be accommodating and blend in, I still managed to tick somebody—or many bodies—off. And once that snowball gets rolling at a fire house, you’re pretty much done for—especially if your truck is white and not red.
But hey, whacha gonna do? OK, fine. I told the Lieutenant, it’s not worth it; I’ll just work elsewhere.
Of course conflict at the station isn’t reserved just for outsiders, but insiders usually move around from station to station until they find a home with likeminded folks and settle in there. That’s why stations, and shifts, have their own character, personality and culture. Work Station X on the A shift? You won’t stop laughing all day, and you’ll eat like a king. B shift? You’re treated like everyone else—they don’t talk to each other; they don’t talk to you; everyone brings their own food, and as soon as they finish their house duties they retreat to different corners of the house. C shift? You’re an alien infiltrating humankind and must be watched and quarantined at all times until you can be eliminated. Stay in your corner of the apparatus bay; get your own meals; use the bathroom only in extremis.
It’s hard not to take it personally, but ask yourself, what would it say about you if that particular crew actually liked you? Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means claiming that I’ve reached social perfection, and there are any number of reasons not to like me. Just ask my wife. I am an obnoxious, argumentative know-it-all … and a lawyer, so those are sufficient reasons without linguini-slurping.
But because this was the first time I’d ever been accused of these particular offenses against proper etiquette and violation of the Rules of Hoyle, I took it in stride. And you know what? The majority of crews are friendly, welcoming and feed you until you can’t fit in your pants. Some actually appreciate the fact you’re working more for less. Life is too short. Move on. Oh and by the way, what if somebody does something you don’t like? Be a mensch; tell them.