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Friends and Aquaintances

Battalion Chief Paul Lepore

Fire departments have the luxury of choosing any candidate they feel would best represent their organization. To an outsider, if your friends are of questionable character, then so are you. You have heard the old saying, “Birds of a feather flock together.” If your friends are getting into trouble, then, potentially, so are you. Even if you are not a party to illegal, immoral or unethical acts, you are going to associated with these activities. Keep in mind that even if it is not illegal, it may not be the right thing to do. Why would a fire department choose to take a chance on someone with questionable character, when there are so many candidates to choose from?

Why is your selection of friends so important to the fire service? If your friends have questionable values and exercise poor judgment, it is probably a matter of time before they get into trouble with the law. Legally, you may be charged as an accomplice to a crime if you are just present, not even participating. Furthermore, you may be charged with possession of drugs if you are riding in a car with a friend who has drugs. The media would not be interested in your friends, but it would make the headlines to hear that a firefighter was arrested. Imagine the reflection on the fire service as a whole if a firefighter were arrested for burglary or on a drug-related charge.

The black eye to the fire service in general is tremendous, but the liability to the agency is even greater. Now the fire department has to deal with the public wondering if all of the firefighters are committing crimes. Obviously, this is not the image the fire service is looking to project. We go to such extremes to enhance our image in the community that we would never consider hiring anyone who could potentially bring discredit to the fire service.

Reflect back to a time when a professional athlete was caught doing something illegal. Unfortunately, you don’t have to look too far. The damage control required to restore the team’s reputation is astronomical. These “role models” have ruined the sport for all of the ones who do a good job. The fire department simply will not tolerate any firefighter bringing discredit to the fire service. It is much easier to keep a good reputation than to restore one.

Firefighters have a certain dress code and appearance. In short, the rules and regulations are pretty clear-cut. They require a conservative hairstyle, and overall clean-cut appearance. If your friends don’t fit the model, you may want to look for another group of friends. I am not saying that if your friends do not wear “nice” clothes each day they are not good people. I am saying that there is a standard. The appearance of your friends can be an indication of your own appearance when off-duty. If you do not want to conform to the paramilitary style of the fire service, it may affect your chances of getting hired.

When I decided that I wanted to become a firefighter my junior year of high school, I was forced to “abandon” my circle of friends. They were not bad kids; they were just average “curious” adolescents. I believed they (we) were involved in questionable activities that would reflect poorly on me in the future. Most importantly, I found that when I was around them I was both an instigator and follower. In short, I became someone I believed was not a good representative of the fire service.

In order to achieve my personal goals, I had to make some hard decisions. It was very difficult, but I knew I had to remove myself from the group. Peer pressure is never easy, especially at that age. I found it best to be honest with them and explain my reasons.

In time, I made new friends. To this day I still communicate with my old high school friends, but I don’t have much in common with them as our lives have gone in different directions. They are all successful in their own careers and personal lives, but we have grown apart.

There is a chance that I could have hidden my relationships with less reputable friends, but to me it was not worth the risk. When or how does the fire department come up with the information about your friends? The background check is designed to do just that. A background investigator employed by the fire department will literally knock on your neighbor’s door with a Polaroid picture of you and start asking questions. If the report from the people who see you on a regular basis is less than glowing, there is a good chance you will be passed over.

Very rarely do you hear that “Bob” is a good person, he just chooses poor friends.” Well, that’s not entirely true. I would expect to hear that from Bob’s mother. The real question is whether Bob is the follower or the leader. Either way, his selection of friends, and therefore his judgment, is suspect. If he cannot make good choices about his friends, why would we expect him to make good decisions while wearing our department’s badge and uniform? Remember, we have the luxury of hiring whichever candidate we choose. Why would we choose someone who exhibits poor judgment?

Friends are an important reflection of who you really are. Yes, you are responsible for your friend’s actions while you are together. Take a close look at your friends and make sure you want to stake your future on them, because you really are.

Your friends should be a positive influence on you. They should encourage you to reach your goals while building your self-esteem. This of course is a two-way street. You should be able to share your dreams and goals with them. They should do anything to help you reach them.

A friend is someone you can call at anytime of the day or night and ask for help. A true friend is the one who will drop anything to help you, even when it is inconvenient for him or her. Everyone is a friend when the beer is flowing and the money is rolling in. A true friend is someone who sticks by your side and lifts you up when you are down.

A true friend will tell you something that’s tough to hear. It is easy to tell friends things that will make them feel good (and you should), but it is also important to tell them things that may hurt. A true friend will tell you the truth no matter how difficult it is. One of the most important parts of having good friends is to be a good friend. You must go out of your way to help friends out when they are in need. To receive you must first give. When a background investigator interviews these friends, they can say what an outstanding person you are, and how you are always ready to lend a hand.